December 5, 2020

Right to Food and Shelter

Today, when the world is discussing various vital topics such as death penalty, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender rights and where people on one hand have various political rights there are many on the other hand who are deprived of the basic social and economic rights like “Right to Food” and “Right to shelter”. These rights are important dimensions of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution that is “No person shall be deprived of his Life and Personal Liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.

A psychologist, Abraham Maslow gave the “Need Hierarchy” which states that individual has five levels of needs. Physiological, security, love and belongingness, esteem needs and self – actualization that should be attained in this particular order. Once the physiological need is fulfilled that is the need of food, water and excretion then only the individual will be able to focus on the other needs. Thus, food is an unavoidable need. Along with food, court of India in cases like Shantisar Builders v. Narayan Khimlal Totame[1] propounded that right to clothing, shelter and decent environment is also significant. Everyone should have suitable shelter which allows him to grown physically, mentally, intellectually and spiritually as stated in the case of Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh[2].

Right to food does not mean that government has to provide free food to its citizens rather it means that it is the duty of the state to provide accessibility to food. They also have to protect this right from various middlemen because of whom the price rises and many other corrupt practise take place. It is the obligation of the state to give opportunities to its people so that they can earn resources and buy food. According to Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN data 2018, 14.8% of the population is undernourished in India, 51.4% women between the age group of 15 to 49 years suffer from anaemic. Accordingly 38.4% of children under the age of five years are stunned that is they are too short for their age and 21% children suffer from wasting which means that their weight is too low for their height. This shows inadequacy of the government to take proper measures to provide food to the people. In Francis Coralie v. Union Territory of Delhi [3]case it was stated that Right to Life does not only mean just the protection of limb or faculty but it also include basic necessities such as adequate nutrition as well. The court in Kapila Hingorani v. State of Bihar[4] precisely communicated that food does not only mean eradication of hunger and malnutrition in addition to that it also means eradication of future malnutrition by court action or other mechanism holding the state accountable on its obligation. One of the Directive Principles of State Policy is that state has the liability to increase the nutrition level and the standard level of the people. The National Food Security Act, 2013 also clearly mentions the responsibility of the state to ensure adequate quantity of quality food at affordable price and in case of fiasco the aggrieved can file complain in the two tier structure that is District Grievance Redressal Office and State Food Commission for remedy. Government organisations have come up with schemes and subsidies to alleviate hunger. For instance- “Below Poverty line” in which people below BPL are given ration card which they can show in the fair price shops to get supplies at a lower rate every month. Another is the “Annapurna Scheme” promising 10 kg of grain free of cost to the people above the age of 65 who do not get pension; I believe this scheme will benefit the people of the country. It also supports the idea that it is the responsibility of the young section of the society to take care of the older generation which is the core value of the Indian society.

Though many efforts are done by the governmental and non- governmental organizations yet the marginalized people are not able to get adequate food. Many schemes and subsidies have failed. One such failure is the mid- day meal scheme. The mid – day meal scheme was introduced in the year 1995 to increase the literacy level and provide nutritional food to children between the age of 6-14 years. The reports made to show its status is quiet contradictory. The HR[5] ministry states the success of the scheme whereas the CAG[6] mentions about its failure. Along with the failure it also highlights about the unhygienic and the poor practise that takes place due to which children are get exposed to dangerous diseases.

Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Right declares that everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family which includes food, clothing, housing and medical care. Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also lays down that each state party to it shall ensure that each person has what constitute as the adequate standard of living that is food, clothing, accommodation and continuous improvement in living conditions.

Adequate Housing as per the Global Strategy is adequate privacy, space, security, lighting and ventilation, basic infrastructure and location at a reasonable cost. India have also recognised this necessity and through various landmark cases incorporated Right to shelter in Article 21.According to Supreme Court, Right to Shelter means “adequate living space, safe and decent structure, clean and decent surroundings, sufficient light, pure air and water, electricity, sanitation and basic amenities[7]” In Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation [8] the court recognised Right to livelihood as an integral component of 21. Depriving a person of shelter means depriving them of livelihood and hence life. The court also contemplated that Article 21 is not absolute and the municipality can evict people off their home through just, fair and reasonable procedure.

Food and shelter is an indispensible need. Food is fuel and shelter is the ware house of our body. Without food our machine like body will stop working and without shelter our body will get exposed to extreme winter, sunlight, heavy rainfall etc. due to which we will not be able to work efficiently and effectively.

Certain measures should be taken to resolve this issue. Like, the National Human Rights Commission should take steps to aware people about their rights and provide mechanism through which people are able to enforce the same. The litigators and lawyers should use international law and conventions in the constitutional interpretations so that maximum benefits could be availed. The central government should start more initiatives ensuring these rights. There should be proper file work so that no malpractice takes place during the execution of the government initiatives. People should be informed about “Right to Information” so that they don’t hesitate to question the government. So, let us all come together to fight and achieve the need of “Roti, Kapda and Makhan”


[1] AIR 1990 SC 630: (1990) 1 SCC 520

[2] AIR 1996 SC 1051: (1996) 2 SCC 549

[3] AIR 1981 SC746 : (1981) 1 SCC 608

[4] (2003) 6 SCC 1

[5] Human Resource

[6] Comptroller and Auditor General

[7] AIR 1996 SC 1051 ; (1996) 2 SCC 549

[8] AIR 1986 SC 180 : (1985) 3 SCC 545

Author Details: Nandini Srivastava and Bheeshm Sharma (Manipal University Jaipur)

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)

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