While making grain available to all is important, it is equally essential to ensure that all food supplied for consumption remains unadulterated and uncontaminated.
When India became independent, the Constitution declared it to be a socialist, secular, democratic Republic. The first fundamental right under the Constitution sets down that every citizen has a right to life. This has been interpreted by the highest court as every citizen’s right to a life in dignity, good health and free speech in a fraternity of communal harmony and national integrity. These rights are possible only if you are not starving, in the first place.
India has, according to some sources, some 400 million people living below the poverty line. Unless poverty is eradicated, our socialist credo will remain just a pretence. Medical facilities being made accessible to every little Indian is also an imperative. In a letter to Union Minister for Food, K.V. Thomas, I had underscored the importance of the recently enacted legislation that is meant to ensure food security, bringing crores of Indians within its ambit. Food security is one of the most important measures that should make the Indian socialist Republic a reality in the true sense of the term. Indeed, the enforcement of the Food Safety Bill will constitute a perspective plan for the making of this socialist Republic.
Challenge of contamination
Still, food security, which seeks to end starvation, does not abolish food adulteration. Virtually all items of food in India have chemicals or adulterants added to them, which make them unsafe to various degrees. Therefore, every public institution where food is served must ensure that what is served is chemically safe, nutritionally healthy and makes for the health of the nation.
This means an organised system of inspecting the quality of food offered in public places. We should be under no illusion that even godowns where grain is kept for easy distribution have enough safety features incorporated in them.
The business of making food appear appealing and attractive often spoils the quality of what we eat. To make the nation healthy, every citizen must be able to buy food that is free from contamination. This will involve a comprehensive process involving testing facilities or laboratories even in the villages. We must have a food safety project that makes what we eat wholesome. Food security cannot be guaranteed merely by the provision of a certain quantity of grain to each family but by ensuring that every grain that is distributed is wholesome and nourishing, and not noxious. The ideology of food safety is a composite one, beyond merely making grain available physically.
We must have a state-sponsored food safety foundation that has branches all across each State, with equipment that can test food safety. An empowered force of trained food safety personnel should visit eateries, food stores, even festival venues where food is served, and take action where adulteration or contamination is detected through scientific means. The food safety police must have suitable powers conferred on them under legislative sanction. There should be an Act that provides statutory instrumentality to thus ensure the health of the people. A safety police force operating under the Health Ministry with powers of seizure is a new concept that will require an amendment to the Food Safety Act. Policing the process is a fundamental obligation of the state.
The destiny of India is as yet uncertain. Jawaharlal Nehru said in a celebrated speech: “The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.”
The Food Safety Bill has a serious shortcoming, and this must be corrected by means of suitable amendments and policy reformation. The prices of vegetables and other necessary commodities for food consumption keep rising and it is still not clear what the government is doing to control the trend.
To end starvation, the prices of all food commodities must be regulated. Real food safety is the have-not humanity’s instrument of contentment.
(V.R. Krishna Iyer is a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India.)
>>The opening sentence of “Safety in food security” (Nov. 7, 2013, OP-ED page article) read: “When India became independent, the Constitution declared it to be a socialist, secular, democratic Republic.” A reader said: “The words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ were added to the Constitution (more specifically to the Preamble) by the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976.” The reader is right.