Why a Children`s Right to Food Act ?

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    By Keisam Pradipkumar
    The present National Food Security Bill, 2011  has few conspicuous deficiencies and silent areas.The bill rather confines to food entitlements through subsidized grain, direct feeding programmes or related interventions, while aspects related to ensuring people’s control over resources and livelihoods, the requirements of enhanced food production, shifting land from agriculture to non–agricultural uses, the need for adequate sanitation and water facilities, social security pensions are not integrated and hence not legally enforceable in a court of law. Then, very title of the bill seems to be inappropriate,   it must have otherwise, named as “National Food Entitlements Bill”. Besides, the proposed provisions of the bill seemingly overlook geo-specific needs of certain region’s children. Enactment of   either a separate Children’s  Right to Food  Act or incorporating relevant provisions into the proposed national bill to make it more inclusive and child centric,   to enable  catering the requirements of the marginalized children’s right to nutrition and food is still crucially important .

    Today’s incredible India has largest number of marginalized children in the world. However, children commonly visible in big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai such as street children, railway children, homeless children, child labours, are usually referred to as   excluded and marginalized children of the country.  Of course, children in institutions, challenged children and huger children are found anywhere.

    At the same time, children affected by armed conflict, social unrest, prolonged bandhs, blockades, continues curfews, internal displacements, ethnic clashes are either less mentioned or many a times totally forgotten. Nevertheless, these categories of children are particularly found in India’s trouble torn North-East and Jammu and Kashmir. Dilemma lies here, when mainstream planners, who are typically oblivious to   periphery people’s harsh realities of life  try to strait jacketing their  prêt-à-porter plans and policies.   The geo- specific need of such children, have to be prioritized, and for that matter, an inclusive   policy to ensure their  right to food and nutrition should be conceived,   so that children of conflict affected peripheries are not left out.

    In Manipur, certain  larger issues such as ill-governance,  prolonged imposition of AFSPA, insurgency, ethnic conflict, poverty, displacement, land (agricultural and forest land)  grabbing  and  assorted manifesting predicaments    such as economic blockades, bandhs, curfews, agitations, corruption, high scale pilferages of PDS items have grossly  hampered the  food security, supply,  availability, access and ultimately the food  absorption status . Entitlements under Mid Day Meal, ICDS,  MGNRGEA , National Family Benefits scheme,  TPDS, National Old Age Pension Scheme,  National Maternity benefit Scheme  are largely affected by the said  socio-political upheavels. 

    Manipur recently experienced the longest ever economic blockade in the country (120 days),  along the  2 National Highways.  During that prolonged blocked, certain landlocked villages, where community  food stock is badly low, and  TPDS remained defunct, might have definitely faced  mass starvation and even starvation death. Unofficial reports corroborate that villagers went through such catastrophic food crisis in   at least  in Churachandpur and Tamenglong districts. In fact, starvation death is the end result of a continuous lack of nutrition, victims who died even after the blocked period must be toted up. Because, main cause of death remains same, and specific time of death is indubitably not so significant. 

    During the blockade periods, the State did not take up any emergency measures to counter the artificial famine. Children living with HIV/AIDS suffered a lot with sudden  stoppage of ART supply,  besides, unavailability of food  wreaked  by the sky rocketing prices of fuel, rice, gas cylinder etc.  Fatefully, no policy is ever formulated for providing additional nutritional support Children Living with HIV/AIDS (CLHA,), whereas   Manipur has above 4000 CLHA. The CLHA are highly susceptible to malnourishment. Inclusion of such children in the list of “Special Children in Need of Nutritional Care”  in the National Food Security Bill, for ensuring early nutritional support and counselling is highly  indispensable.  

    In Manipur, children often face emergency food and nutrition crisis, when they are dumped in the relief camps following any massive counter insurgency operations, and  mass displacement actions. The relief camps are by and large run without safe drinking water, minimum sanitation, good toilet facilities. Infection with water born and other communicable diseases is quite common. Most critical thing is, camps do not have adequate food to serve such displaced children,  let alone the question of  nutrition.   

    The Children in institutions or Children Homes, could not get the diet scales laid down in State’s Juvenile Justice  Rules. Untimely disbursement of grand-in-aid and unduly delay in the full implementation of ICPS in the state vilely affected the quality institutional care of the children.    

    The invisible Children or domestic helps, child labour; school drop outs, working children, are virtually excluded from the ambit of proposed National Food Security Bill. There is no enabling environment and feasible social condition through which they could access to  get food under  ICDS, Mid Day Meal  and  free education under Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act. Similarly, children of sex workers, children of prisoners, migrant workers, orphans are evenly marginalized children, who need consorted mainstreaming and special attention. 

    TDPS in Manipur is horribly paralyzed.  A report of 2006-2007 prepared by Joginder Singh (IPS Retd.) former Director Central Bureau of Investigation, shows not a single grain of wheat supplied to north eastern states Sikkim, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Assam reached to the targeted poor people. Manipur topped as 97.7% of its rice allocation was reportedly siphoned off.    

    An independent research work of PEARL Project (Manipur) also revealed that 2  Godowns in Chandel (one in Tenoupal and another at Chandel H.Q.) have not been in use for the last 5 years, instead of foodgrains, charcoals and business items were found inside the godowns. Tamenglong has 5 FCS godowns, while Senapati has 3 godowns. These godowns  remained  idle as no PDS items were  anymore stored.  It depicts  how the PDS items  failed to reach to the district level FCS Godows from Imphal.

    Manipur has reportedly   1,02,400 BPL house holds,  and 63,600 AAY households ( February 2008). In 2005-06, total number of beneficiary household in the State were 4,06,593 of which there were 2,40,593 APL households, 1,15,600 BPL households and 50,400 AAY households. Surprisingly, Manipur government never lifted the centrally allocated PDS items as “Short Lifting”  was recorded every time. Within the state “Short  Receipt”  is a common phenomenon.  Giving a heavy burden to the targeted poor masses, the State government overcharged a huge amount of Rs. 5.28 cores for issue of 1,12,406 MT of AAY by fixing the price Rs.3.47 per kg,being increased the end retail prize by 47 paise per kg during 2005-10. Similarly the State overcharged  Rs. 1.24 crore for  1,2,406 MT of BPL rice by fixing at Rs. 6.21 per kg. which overcharged  Rs. 0.06 per kg from the prescribed limit of Rs.5.65 per kg. ( Source : Report of Comptroller and Auditor General of India for the year ended March 2010 (Report No.2) Government of Manipur).

    At this instant, we must envision upon right to food beyond the limit of Targeted Public Distribution System’s parameters and upsurge a people centric collective movement. Right to entitled PDS items and Right to Food are indivisible part of right to life. Blocking life lines, siphoning of PDS items, misappropriation of allotted PDS items, deprivation of   child’s right to food and nutrition are stark examples of violation of basic human rights.

    The right to food and nutrition would be meaningful only when there is food sovereignty, where people’s control over resources and livelihoods is ensured, when  the requirements of enhanced food production are ensured , when land grabbing for aggressive development  or shifting land from agriculture to non –agricultural uses is stopped, when people have access to  adequate sanitation and water facilities, social security pensions  are  incorporated in the right to food legislation and making  them  legally enforceable in a court of law.

    Last but not least, we need to enact a legislation ensuring Children’s Right to Food,  that  provides children’s geo-specific needs,  culturally accepted and locally available nutritious food supplements, under which knowledge and skill development training for identifying such herbs, plants, cereals, and the best way of preparation, sanitation and hygienic cooking are taught to the community,  in block level, district  and state level. Thereby, dependency to imported costly food items, and junk food is being replaced by locally available indigenous nutritious foods. Right to Foods should be universalized, it should never be a privilege but a fundamental right.

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