Ensuring mechanisms that protect the right to life against the risk of famine in India

Country: India
Body: Supreme Courts
Case: People's Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India & Others
Case number: Writ Petition (Civil) No.196
Year of judgement: 2006
PDF of decision

In 2001 the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties claimed that that recent starvation deaths that occurred in the Indian State of Rajasthan were the result of the State’s failure to release grain stocks in fact kept as a guard against famine, and that this denial amounted to a violation of the human right to food and, more broadly, the right to life. In 2003 the Supreme Court of India sided with the PUCL, finding that the right to life was imperiled due the failure of the famine protection schemes. The Court noted the paradox of food being available in granaries but that the poor were starving, and it refused to hear arguments concerning the non-availability of resources given the severity of the situation. The Court ultimately ordered that the “Famine Code” be implemented, grain allocation for the for work scheme be doubled and financial support for food distribution schemes, including midday meals for children in schools be increased. Orders were also made for ration shop licensees to stay open and provide grain, at a set price, to families living below the poverty line and for all individuals without means of support (older persons, widows, disabled adults) be granted a ration card for free grain.

This case is significant in the context of social protection and human rights in the way it exposes clear linkages between social security and welfare rights. The case was instrumental in catalyzing an Indian-wide movement for implementation of various food schemes and continues to be widely discussed in global human rights circles.

Social Protection and Human Rights