Delhi – Report from “Right to food dharna”

December 16, 2012

The “Right to Food Dharna” convened by the right to food campaign concluded today with an extended plenary session and a “dhikkar rally” – procession of all the participants wearing black head bands to protest against the government’s failure to pass the National Food Security Act and attempt to hoodwink the public with false promises of mass cash transfers before the 2014 elections.

The plenary session reaffirmed the dharna’s main demand – a comprehensive National Food Security Act including universal PDS, universalization with quality of ICDS, nutritious midday meals, appropriate MPSs and also other essential entitlements such as social security pensions and maternity entitlements. The participants resolved to continue their united struggle for this demand, and to resist the dismantling of the Public Distribution System. The concluding resolution is attached.

Speakers at the concluding plenary included Jayati Ghosh (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Nikhil Dey (Madoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan), Bezwada Wilson (Safai Karamchari Andolan), A.K. Shiva Kumar (National Advisory Council), Gautam Navlakha (People’s Union for Democratic Rights), Jean Dreze (Allahabad University) and Kavita Srivastava (Right to Food Campaign).

Jayati Ghosh argued that a universal PDS was an essential part of sound economic policy and that the main beneficiaries of cash transfers would be commercial enterprises. Nikhil Dey pointed out that accumulating such large food stocks and refusing to distribute them to poor people was nothing short of criminal. Bezwada Wilson said that in a welfare state this sort of dharna would not be necessary – food security and other basic needs would be addressed. A.K. Shiva Kumar pointed out that UID ended up excluding instead of including people – those are able to get a UID are mainly well-off people, and those who are deprived of identity in the first place find it difficult to get a UID. Jean Dreze recalled earlier achievements of the right to food campaign and argued that the time now was for a comprehensive national food security act, not piecemeal measures. Kavita Srivastava announced that the right to food campaign’s next national programme would be a convention on the right to food, to be held in Delhi during the Budget Session of Parliament.

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Concluding Resolution

Hundreds of us women, men and children have assembled at Jantar Mantar for three days (on 13-15 December), from 11 different states, to reassert our demand for a comprehensive National Food Security Act.

During the last four years we have held similar agitations and protests, at Jantar Mantar and all over the country, in pursuit of this demand. However, the government is proving deaf to this demand. A very weak National Food Security Bill was tabled in Parliament in December 2011, and has been languishing with a standing committee ever since. Today, the government seems all set to forget the Act and is trying, instead, to hoodwink the public with false promises of mass cash transfers before the 2014 elections.

The accelerated drive for cash transfers is a major threat to the Public Distribution System, which has become a lifeline for millions of people. Testimony after testimony during the dharna conveyed the importance of a well-functioning PDS for people who live on the margin of subsistence. The little rice, wheat and other commodities that people get from the PDS are hard-won entitlements, and we are not prepared to give them up.

Our notion of a comprehensive National Food Security Act includes: (1) A universal PDS that provides cereals, millets, pulses and oil (with quantities based of ICMR norms); (2) Appropriate MSPs and decentralised procurement of rice, wheat and millets; (3) Universalization with quality of ICDS including the provision of nutritious locally prepared food for all children; (4) Other essential entitlements including social security pensions for vulnerable persons (the aged, single women, and persons with disabilities), school mid-day meals, maternity entitlements, and community kitchens in urban areas.

We resolve to continue our united struggle for a comprehensive National Food Security until these demands are met. This is not just a struggle for food security but also for a society where everyone’s basic needs are taken care of as a matter of social responsibility.

Our next step in this struggle will be a national convention on the right to food, to be held during the Budget Session of Parliament.