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Kolkata Group demands universal, justiciable food entitlements

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen speaks on “Eliminating Injustice” at the Eighth Kolkata Group Workshop on February 15. At right is Dr. Lincoln Chen of the Harvard-based Global Equity Initiative. At left is Dr A. K. Shiva Kumar, Adviser, UNICEF, India. Photo: N. Ram   | Photo Credit: N_RAM

The Kolkata Group is an independent initiative inspired and chaired by Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. Once a year, it brings together participants drawn from various fields to explore the many inter-connections between inequality, deprivation, human development, and democracy. Its special focus has been on examining ways of advancing people’s health and education. The organisations supporting the Kolkata Group are UNICEF India, Professor Sen’s Pratichi Trust, and the Harvard-based Global Equity Initiative.

This year’s workshop, the eighth in the annual series, was on “Eliminating Injustice.” It was structured broadly around the themes explored in Professor Sen’s most recent theoretical work, The Idea of Justice (Allen Lane, Penguin Books, 2009) and, like earlier workshops, drew on insights gained from surveys, other kinds of research, and practical experience. The two-day workshop, structured into five sessions, began with a discussion of the different dimensions of injustice and addressed the challenge of eliminating injustice in the areas of elementary education, food and health, women, work and care, and tribals, Dalits and minorities.

The public declaration on the Right to Food is as follows:

The Eighth Kolkata Group Workshop, chaired by Professor Amartya Sen, was held in Kolkata on February 15-16, 2010.

The theme this year was “Eliminating Injustice”. Over fifty participants from different walks of life — policymakers, opinion leaders, social scientists, scholars, activists and development experts — met to discuss dimensions of injustice relating to elementary education, food security, health, women’s work and non-discrimination.

On the basis of extensive discussions on the exceptionally high levels of under-nutrition in India, particularly among women and children, the Kolkata Group argued for a firm recognition of the right to food in general and comprehensive legislation to guarantee the entitlements to food for all. Recent experience (including Supreme Court orders on the Right to Food as well as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) shows the value of putting economic and social rights in a legal framework. Legislation should recognise that food and nutritional security depends not just on food but on a set of related interventions that promote women’s health and nutrition, safe drinking water, proper sanitation and health care.

The Kolkata Group argued for creating durable legal entitlements that guarantee the right to food in India. A Right to Food Act covering justiciable food entitlements should be non-discriminatory and universal. Entitlements guaranteed by the Act should include food grains from the Public Distribution System, school meals, nutrition services for children below the age of six years, social security provision, and allied programmes.

Ensuring non-discriminatory access and universal entitlements requires special initiatives that focus on the discriminated, disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society.

Last but not least, design and implementation should include effective public participation, grievance redressal provisions and independent monitoring.

Among those who attended the Kolkata Group Workshop, in addition to Amartya Sen, were Sabina Alkire, Sudhir Anand, Shabana Azmi, Amiya Bagchi, Jasodhara Bagchi, Alaka Basu, Anil Bordia, Sugata Bose, Asim Chakraborty, Lincoln Chen, Seema Chishti, Abhijit Chowdhury, Nandita Das, Asim Dasgupta, R. Govinda, Saibal Gupta, Syeda Hameed, Rounaq Jahan, Surinder Jodhka, Poonam Muttreja, Rohini Nilekani, Biraj Patnaik, N. Ram, V.K. Ramachandran, Mala Ramadorai, Kumar Rana, Abhijit Sen, A.K. Shiva Kumar, Shanta Sinha, Rehman Sobhan, Madhura Swaminathan, Sharmila Tagore, Sukhadeo Thorat and Sitaram Yechury.


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