PUCL v. Union of India – (Right to Food)

Name of the CasePeople Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India
Equivalent CitationAIR 1982 SC 1473
CourtSupreme Court of India
BenchK.G. Balakrishnan and P. Venkatarama Reddi
Writ PetitionPublic Interest Writ Petition No.196 (Civil Writ) of 2001
PetitionerPeople Union of Civil liberty
RespondentUnion of India


“India is food secure, but not the Indian” It means India is not poor, but the youth reside in India is indigenous. You must know that record production of more than 290 million food grain includes rice, wheat, pulses, etc., has been distributed in India [between 2019-2020]. Even then, the Indians spent their whole night in hunger. However, Per capita availability of food grain is steadily increasing a steady decline in per capita consumption of food grain. In 2019, Global Hunger Index India ranks 102nd out of 117 qualifying countries, worse than Nepal, Pakistan and Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh. Currently, about 200 million people go hungry, and also about 25 lakh people die every year due to hunger/ starvation. Further, 25% of underage children are malnourished. In my article, I am highlighting the food security issues of 2001, before the passing of enactment [National food Security Act, 2013] where a large number of people were dying because of hunger, starvation, and malnutrition.  They have no source of income to fulfill their basic human needs such as food, shelter, and clothes, etc. Furthermore, the government is instantly working on copious schemes for the protection and upliftment of the economically weaker section of the society. Immeasurable amounts of money are spent by the government on such schemes to feed poverty-stricken children and younger’s, and also providing them subsidized foods, etc. but initially the problem is not resolved, it takes some couple of year to make the country a better version for the progress of the poor section.


India had put continuance efforts to give the constitutional status to the Right to food. This concept of Right to food began by filling a “Public Interest Litigation Petition (Civil)Writ Petition No. 196/2001”, on behalf of the penurious people residing in the territory of Rajasthan, the poor’s had not been getting any kind any required food relief and employment obligatory by the Rajasthan famine Code of 1962. In 2001 Supreme Court passed their verdict on the issue of “Right to Food” in the case of  “PUCL v/s Union of India” and “Kishen Pathhnayak and other v/s State of Orissa” the right to food” has recognized under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which implies that “Right to life with personal liberty” including Right to food and livelihood, concerning Article 47 of the Directive Principle of State Policy stipulates “The state shall strive to “raise the level of nutrition”, “standard of living” and also “improve the public health” and is deemed as a primary duty of the state.  After hearing, contention and plea, the Supreme Court had passed Interim orders for the better and modern-implemented government programs. Such government programs include food entitlements in childcare centers, mid-day meals for school children, availability of subsidized food for a large amount of specific vulnerable groups/ classes, as well as changes were made in the subsidies avail to the indigenous people whole came below the official poverty line.

Background of Right to Food in India

The right to food is a basic human right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It protects the right of citizens as well as non-citizens to live in liberty and dignity, free from starvation/ hunger and food insecurity and undernourishment. Hence, the provisions of fundamental right provide relief from hunger” and “International Covenant on Economic, Social and culture Rights” stipulates the “right to adequate means of the living standard include the right to food”, and The “right to food” does not imply charity, but it ensuring that all human beings could feed themselves in liberty and dignity. According to the “food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations”, its states that the right to food does not signify that the government must facilitate free food to all the individual who wants it. So, this is a common misconception, but in reality, it is not happening. Moreover, the fundamental right to food does not imply the right to the minimum ration of protein, calories, and the other specific nutrition’s, and a right to right to feed. It is being guaranteed the right to feed oneself, which requires not the food is available, at the ratio of production is sufficient to the population, but also, it is accessible means that each household either has the means to produce or buy its food. Therefore, if the person who has the right to food, is deprived of access to food for a reason beyond their control. For Instances: – Natural disaster, armed conflict, legal and illegal detention, etc. by recognizes the right to be free from hunger, the state has to provide sufficient mean of food for their survival.

Case Analysis: People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India & Ors, Civil Original Jurisdiction, In Supreme Court, Writ Petition No.196 of 2001

Facts of the Case

In 2001, it was observed that 47 Dalits and tribal’s were facing problems due to starvation of death. It mainly occurs in Southern-Eastern Rajasthan as this state having a 3rd consecutive year of drought continuously. These circumstances occurred, despite having excessive food grains around 40 million tones kept for a certain time of famine. Although a plethora of food distribution schemes throughout India was also not functioning properly. Further, there was a godown of Food Corporation situated on the outskirts of Jaipur which is few miles away from the village peoples and the godown has filled with food grains, but the gains of the godown were rancid because of fermentation of rainwater as it was kept outside the godowns.  Due to such a huge loss, the poor villagers were taking their meal in rotationally; commonly say “rotation eating”. It simply means few members of their family eat on one day and the remaining members eat on the other day i.e. just next to 1st day. Hence, In 2001 a question was arose, as per the implemented program of government, 60 million tones were kept in godowns of the Food Corporation of India (FCI), whereas the buffer stocks had 20 million tones, as well as the Government, had 40 million tones just above the buffer stock but still, several people were dying due, hunger, starvation, and malnutrition. After observing all these situations, PUCL approached the Supreme Court and filed a writ petition on the issue of the Right to food. A week later, the Right to Food Campaign, social activists and organizations, approached the apex court and filed a writ petition to protect the Food security rights of Indians. This case is well known as—People’s Union for Civil Liberties v Union of India (popularly known as the Right to Food case)—and also, sought to make new and better implementation in the government’s policy and schemes on right to food.

Issues Raised

The issue has been raised on April 16, 2001, in respect to raise in the starvation and death case due to hunger, the People Union civil Liberties PUCL contended a “writ petition” before the Supreme Court of India, bring three major issues in respect of “Right to food”:

       1. Death caused due to starvation became a root cause problem for our nation, while there is a surplus/ overplus warehouse of food grains in government godown. Whether the right to life under Article 21, stipulate people who are hungry/ starving and who have no means of income to buy food grains at free of cost by the State from the surplus stock hold by the State government specifically when it is rotting and unused?

       2. Whether the right to life under Article 21 of the India Constitution, does not include the right to food?

      3. Whether the right to food, upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court signifies the duty of the State government to provide food security especially in circumstances of drought to people, and those who are drought-affected and not in a situation to buy food.

Petitioner Argument

It had been further submitted before the Hon’ble SC by the Petitioner that Right to life including right to food with dignity” has been given by SC in their previous verdict, the writ petition under Article 32 had been filed against the action and behavior of the government towards indigent villagers. However, it has further submitted that it the obligation of the state government to provide the necessary aid and assistance mainly food to the people who are affected by drought, because the whole situation of chronic hunger was faced by the conduct of Rajasthan government and it also, violative of State Government duty.

Related Provisions

Recognizes the Right to food under Indian Constitution: The Indian Constitution guaranteed some basic human rights under Part IV, Article (12 to 35) but in practice, the people have not obeyed it.

  • Article 21: “Every citizen has the right to life including right to food and this fundamental right to life and personal liberty shall not be deprived except according to the procedure established by law.”
  • Article 39(a): “the State has to put endeavor to maintain its policy for ensuring that the citizen, men, and women are equal and have the equal right to an adequate means of livelihood…”
  • Article 47: “The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties…”
  • Article 32(1): “This right is guaranteed to the aggrieved party, one can approach the Supreme Court of India by filing a writ petition under Article 32, for the violation of fundamental rights conferred by this Part”.

Recognition Right to Food under International Law

The right to adequate food is considered as a basic human right and it is also, protected under the Humanitarian law and International human right well known established under the International law.

  • Right to food was fist recognized was first recognized in the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in 1948, under (Art. 25) states a decent standard of living; including food, clothing, housing, etc….”Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including food, water, shelter, and livelihood, etc. It became legally enforceable when the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” (ICESCR) came into effect in the year 1976.
  • Article 11(2) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) states that it is a fundamental right free from starvation. India is a signatory to these covenants these provisions are binding also widely relied upon by the Supreme Court in the case of “Chameli Singh v. union of India; “CESC v. Shubhash Chandra Bosh” and “Peerless general finance v. RBI” so on. Moreover, many international agreements have affirmed the right to food, among them the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1979, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989.

Supreme Court Interim Order

The apex court held, in its order that state has to protect and respect the right to food, the court tries to justify Right to food under Article 21 of the Indian constitution, but the court also connect it to Article 39 (a) and Article 47, these two Articles are not enforceable in the Court, they could be applied as a context with the fundamental right to life. However copious of interim order was issued to direct the authorities to investigate that food is available to all the disabled, aged, infirm, destitute men, destitute women who are in danger of hunger, malnutrition, pregnant and destitute children lactating women, especially in such cases where members of their families do not have sufficient source of income to fulfill their necessities. 

On August 2001, the Supreme Court main concerned about the death caused by starvation, it was observed that the obligation of the Central and State Governments to ensure that the sufficient food grains kept in FCI godown which is easily accessible reached by the starving person and not being wasted by dumped into the sea or eaten by rats or any other negligent act. In September, the Supreme Court has issued a notice to 16 states, which had not recognized the (Below Poverty Line people) and ordered them to recognize within two weeks in order to distribute food to them under the Public Distribution System (PDS).

November 2001, interim order issued to directing State government to announce mid-day meal, in government-aided primary schools. Since this hearing, a plethora of food “right to food campaign” had started which focused on the implementation of Supreme Court orders regarding the right to food case. This case gives a clear impression that how the modern youth of a democratic political system can hold the Government responsible for the non-performance of its obligations and duties. In this case, the main objective is to eliminate hunger and malnutrition issues with impoverished citizens who are facing chronic starvation. Moreover, The Supreme Court sought to establish a constitutional provision of a basic human right to food and determining basic nutritional food for the indignant person.

Evolution of Right to Food Security in India

  • On 14th January 1945: During the Second World War, “the Public Distribution Scheme” was launched as a general entitlement scheme and also was introduced in the current form in June 1947.
  • In 1951: “the Public Distribution Scheme” continued as a major social welfare scheme.
  • In 1995: Introduction of agriculture price Commission and food Corporation of India.
  • In 1997: in such a period “Public Distribution Scheme” was given new and improved form to target the household such as BPL, APL. It was also well known as “Target Public distribution scheme”
  • In 2001: In this year, Supreme Court passed an interim order in the case of Public Union of Civil Liberties” and declared that “right to food” as an extension to the fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
  • In 2009: In the year 2009, when Congress party was elected in 2009 election, they give manifesto promised to implement “Right to Food”
  • In 2013: The National food security Act came into effect on 5th July 2013.

The Paradox of Food Security under the National Food Security Act [NFSA]

This Act came into force on 5th July 2013 by passing an ordinance and it was enacted on 10th September 2013. This Act aims to provide the legal entitlement to the right to adequate food security to the Indian people who are indigenous, disadvantageous section, marginalized and vulnerable classes of people held in the case of “Chameli Singh and Ors. v. State of U.P. and Anr”. However, subsidized food grain is facilitated by up to 75% to the rural population and 50% to the sub-urban population in India as per this Act. It also provided nutrition to a child, mother, student (till class 8), and malnourished children. In case if they can provide the entitled quantities of food grain or meals, then food security allowances’ will be given to the people.

Certain Schemes Introduced by the Government to Ensure Food Security in India

Some food schemes and other assistance program are provided by the government of India for the upliftment of indigenous people in India:-

  1. Annapoorna Yojana: This program is connected with targeted Public Distribution scheme) PDS. It avails 10 kg of food per month free-of-cost to those indigent people who are living alone. During 1992-2000 budgets Annapoorna Yojana, it is currently in force and focused on those who do not reside with their family in the same village
  2. Antyodya Anna Yojana: This scheme was announced in 2001. It is addressed to the most indigent people in society. This yojana provided with a special ration card with 35 kg of grain per month at severe subsidized prices (Rs 3/kg for rice and Rs 2/kg for wheat).
  3. Mid-day Meal Scheme: Under this scheme, all children at the age of 6-14 years whether in government and government-assisted schools are provided a hot cooked and free mid-day meal for 200 days in a year. The government provides assistance in terms of money for the construction of kitchen sheds and cooking. This Mi-meal scheme is a huge relief to the poor children and also provides educational facilities to them.


On 16th April 2001 PUCL case was instituted, apart 427 affidavits have been filed by the petitioner [social activists and NGOs] and responded [State govt. of Rajasthan] and 71 IA’s (interlocutory applications) have been instituted. The case has significantly contributed to the vast expansion of the National Campaign on the Right to Food. In this case, it has highlighted the new aspect of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and handling grievances of downtrodden section/class of the society. This case discussed the loopholes in government functions such as incapability, lack of transparency, corruption, and accountability of the government. In its interim order, SC highlighting the issue regarding the public distribution system and various government schemes for the welfare downtrodden section of society. Furthermore, the court held that the Right to food has been declared as a constitutional right, and the government is constantly reminded of its duty through the committee and they cannot escape it.


  1. Kishen Pattnayak & another v. State of Orissa, AIR 1989 SC 677
  2. People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India and others: AIR 1982, SC 1473.
  3. Chameli Singh and Ors. v/s. State of U.P. and Anr . [1996] 2 SCC 549
  4. The Right to Life is the Right to Food : People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India & Others’ by Lauren Birchfield and Jessica Corsi, http://www.wcl.american.edu/hrbrief/17/3corsi.pdf
  5. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights art. 11, opened for signature Dec. 19, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3 [hereinafter ICESCR].
  6. United nation (1948); Universal Declaration of Human Right, retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/document/udhr/
  7. Ibid, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution
  8. Ibid, Article 39(a) of the Indian Constitution
  9. Ibid, 47 of the Indian  Constitution
  10. Ibid, 32 of the Indian  Constitution
  11. Right to Food in India’, supra 1, pg. 31
  12. Supreme Court Order on Right to Food: A Tool for Action, October 2005
  13. ‘Right to Food Campaign, Legal Action : Introduction’,
  14.  <http://www.righttofoodindia.org/case/case.html


  1. Whether the Right to food recognized under the provision of the Indian Constitution?
  2. What are the main objectives of the National Food Security Act [NFSA]?
  3. Whether the right to food is legally binding right?
  4. Under which articles the right to food recognize under International Law?
  5. Explain the evolution of the National Food Security Act, 2013?
  6. Critically analysis, the landmark judgment on People’s Union of Public Liberties v. Union of India?
  7. What are the certain schemes introduces by the government for the upliftment of indigent people?

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