PUCL Bulletin, December 2002

Right To Food Campaign update
Chief Secretaries to be held accountable for starvation deaths
09 Nov 2002

Also see, India's Poor Starve as Wheat Rots

Dear friends,
There has been action on many fronts in recent weeks, and many further activities are expected during the next few months. Please note that these "Updates" does not cover all the activities of the Right to Food campaign. We are doing our best to keep track of what is happening in different states, and to spread the information; but it is in the nature of this decentralised campaign that much is happening on the ground without necessarily coming to our notice. There is a good deal of further information on the campaign website (http://geocities.com/righttofood). Please consider helping us to improve the spread of information by sending us details of any relevant activities in your area.

A new feature called "digest of mails" has been added to the Updates. This is a means of circulating summaries of miscellaneous mails received, without bombarding you with messages. For further details, see item 9 below.

And now for today's headlines: 1. Latest Supreme Court Hearing (29 October, 2002); 2. Starvation In Baran: Action Continues; 3. Jharkhand: Forthcoming Events; 4. Uttar Pradesh: Public Rally On Children's Day (14 November); 5. Orissa: Public Hearing On 28 November; 6. Asia Social Forum (Hyderabad, 2-7 January 2003); 7. Public Hearing On "Living With Hunger" (Delhi, 10 January 2003); 8. Campaign Website Upgraded; 9. Digest Of Mails - A New Feature; 10. Reminders.

1. Latest Supreme Court Hearing (29 October, 2002)
The Supreme Court heard the right to food case again on 29 October 2002. The hearing started with the submission of a report by Dr N. C. Saxena, who has been appointed as Commissioner by the Supreme Court for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of recent interim orders. The report be available shortly at Http://geocities.com/righttofood/comrs/reports/one.html. A brief account of the 29 October hearing follows below.

(NB: In earlier "Updates", it was stated that Dr. N.C. Saxena and Mr. S.R. Sankaran had been appointed as Commissioners. Unbeknown to us, Mr. Sankaran had meanwhile written to the Ministry declining his post. Thus, as of now there is a single Commissioner, Dr. N.C. Saxena. Apologies for the confusion.)

Starvation deaths
The report of the Commissioner included a list of recent media reports of starvation deaths. When this was read out, the Attorney General Mr. Soli Sorabjee argued that the reports were not reliable and drew the attention of the bench to a recent article published in India Today (Nov 4th Issue), which claims to "debunk" some recent media reports of starvation deaths in Orissa. To this the bench replied that we should have some means of verifying the claims, and that the 'assistants to the Commissioners' (to be appointed in each state) might be able to help in this respect.

The following order was issued: "It is the duty of each States/Union Territories to prevent deaths due to starvation or malnutrition. If the Commissioner reports and it is established to the satisfaction of the Court that starvation death has taken place, the Court may be justified in presuming that its orders have not been implemented and the Chief Secretaries/Administrators of the States/ Union Territories may be held responsible for the same."

Expanding food for work
Pointing out that grave hunger continued despite Supreme Court orders, Mr. Colin Gonsalvez (counsel to the petitioner) argued for a major expansion of the current Food For Work programme. This would require the centre to raise the allocation of free grain to the states to 20 million tones, and the cash component to Rs 10,000 crores (as recommended by the Abhijit Sen committee). The Attorney General Mr. Soli Sorabjee questioned the need for an increase in allocation for the state governments when the States were not lifting the existing quotas. This led to an extended and rather confusing discussion, at the end of which the bench decided to wait for a report form the Commissioner before taking a decision.

Advisors to the commissioners
Colin Gonsalves mentioned that many states have not responded to the information that we had requested for. The bench suggested that if information was a problem, it could ask the state governments to appoint officers as assistants to the Commissioner in each state. The bench then ordered each state to appoint an assistant to the Commissioner, who would both supply relevant information to the Commissioner and liaise with the nodal officers appointed by each state. (NB: Each state is already supposed to have appointed a "nodal officer" to liaise with the Commissioner.)

Further court directions
In further directions, the Supreme Court gave the state governments one last chance to translate its orders and publicize them, where this has not happened. The full text of 29 October order is available on the campaign website (see http://geocities.com/righttofood/orders/oct29.html).

2. Starvation In Baran: Action Continues

The state of Rajasthan recently came under intense scrutiny, following reports of a wave of starvation deaths in Baran. PUCL (Rajasthan) and other organisations mounted pressure on the government and presented the Chief Minister a memorandum of actions to be taken. The government took up most of the recommendations and posted many senior officers in the district to oversee the operations. It has also raised the "labour ceiling" on relief works both for that area and for other places in Rajasthan (from 7 lakhs person-days this month to 9 lakhs).
The letter to the Chief Minister along with the PUCL report is available at http://geocities.com/righttofood/events/rajasthan.html

3. Jharkhand: Forthcoming Events
In Jharkhand, Gram Swaraj Abhiyan is planning a series of activities in November and December, culminating in a large rally in Ranchi on 22 December.
On 15 November, local padyatras will begin in five different locations: Santal Parganas, Garhwa, Nimdi, Ranchi and Koderma. The padyatras will focus on several related themes: (1) gram swaraj; (2) the right to food; (3) peace and harmony; and (4) transparent and accountable governance. An important part of the background of these padyatras is the prospect of panchayat elections in Jharkhand in early 2003. Panchayat elections have not been held in Jharkhand for several decades.

From 10 December onwards, the padyatras will converge towards Ranchi, reaching there on 19 December. This will be followed by two days of seminars and discussions on the above themes, on 20-21 December in Ranchi. On 22 December, a public rally will take place in Ranchi, ending with a "gram sansad".
For further information, please contact Balram at balramjee@rediffmail.com or Byomkesh at byomkeshk@rediffmail.com

4. Uttar Pradesh: Public Rally On Children's Day (14 November)
In Uttar Pradesh, plans are afoot for a public rally on Children's Day (14 November), to demand the immediate introduction of cooked mid- day meals in all primary schools. Thousands of parents and children are expected from different parts of the state. Several teachers' organisations have also agreed to support the rally - a significant development in view of the ambivalent position of teachers' organisations on mid-day meals in many states. The participants are hoping to meet Chief Minister Mayawati and remind her about the Supreme Court order on mid-day meals. If all goes well, the rally on 14 November will be followed by a 24 hour dharna outside the State Assembly.

The rally will begin at 10 am at Char Bagh, near the railway station. All are welcome. For further information, please contact Awaz at awazlko@hotmail.com (Tel.: 0522-715 500).

5. Orissa: Public Hearing On 28 November
A major public hearing will be taking place in Bhubaneswar on 28 November, to mark the anniversary of the 28 November 2001 order of the Supreme Court (available at http://geocities.com/righttofood/orders/interimorders.html). This initiative is coordinated by CLAP (Committee for Legal Aid to Poor), contactable at ctk_committee@sancharnet.in. Further details will be posted soon.

6. Asia Social Forum (Hyderabad, 2-7 January 2003)

As most of our readers would know, the first Asia Social Forum will be taking place on 2-7 January 2003 in Hyderabad (for details about the event, you can look at www.wsfindia.org. This event is an offshoot of the "World Social Forum" process, which began in Porto Allegre (Brazil). A wide range of activist organisations from all over India are expected to take part in this crucial gathering.

As part of this forum, the "support group" of the Right to Food Campaign is planning to host a seminar and a sharing workshop. The seminar will be an opportunity for exchange and dialogue between various groups that have been working on the right to food, and/or on the right to work. Information about the Supreme Court hearing and the Right to Food Campaign will be shared and discussed at the seminar. You are cordially invited to join the seminar, and to send any suggestions you may have regarding the format and content of the discussions (suggestions and comments may be sent to right2food@yahoo.co.in). We will keep you posted on the events.
The sharing workshop, just after the seminar, will focus specifically on the Supreme Court hearing. It will be an opportunity for interested participants to learn more about the details of this public interest litigation, and to contribute any suggestions they may have.

7. Public Hearing On "Living With Hunger" (Delhi, 10 January 2003)
As mentioned in an earlier announcement (sent last week), a major public hearing on hunger and starvation will be taking place in Delhi on 10 January, 2003. The overarching theme is "living with hunger". As you know, there have been widespread reports of extreme hunger and even "starvation deaths" in different parts of India during the last few months. Aside from these dramatic events, hunger and under-nutrition quietly haunt the lives of millions of women, men and children on a day-to-day basis. Aside from being intolerable in its own right, this situation reflects gross violations of recent Supreme Court directives on the right to food.
A wake-up call is badly needed. State authorities need to be held accountable to this situation, and the conscience of the nation also needs to be stirred. With this in mind, the support group of the Right to Food campaign is planning to convene a public hearing on hunger and starvation in New Delhi on 10 January 2003.
Economist Amartya Sen, writer Mahashweta Devi and nutritionist Shanti Gosh have agreed to participate. Our thanks to all those who have already responded to the call for participating in this public hearing. If you missed the earlier announcement, you can catch up with the details in http://geocities.com/righttofood/events/public_hearing.html

If you are planning to participate in the Asia Social Forum in Hyderabad on 2-7 January (see above), you may wish to book your tickets back home through Delhi in order to participate in the public hearing. In any case, early travel arrangements are advisable.

A follow-up meeting will be held on 11 January, to discuss future activities of the Right to Food Campaign. This is an important event, as the campaign may need to be stepped up in view of the drought conditions in many states. It has also been suggested that this opportunity could be used for various advocacy activities on 11 January itself, such as sending delegations to the Prime Minister, President, opposition leaders, etc. Further suggestions are welcome.

8. Campaign Website Upgraded
The campaign website (http://geocities.com/righttofood) has been reorganised and expanded. Please remember to take a look from to time, and also to spread the news about this website. It is a crucial means of communication for the campaign.
The website includes a new section called "Events". Please consider sending us information on any relevant activities in your area, we will post it in this section. The events have to pertain to the Right to Food Campaign.

9. Digest Of Mails - A New Feature
As this E-group continues to expand, we are receiving a growing number of miscellaneous mails for dissemination in the group. Since we are committed to avoid flooding you with messages, we are adding a new service with the updates - "Digest of mails". From now on, such a digest will feature in most "Updates". It will have a summary of the miscellaneous messages, with a link to the complete message (whenever possible) for those who are interested.
While most of the mails we receive are pertinent to the campaign, some are not. We regret to inform you that we will not be able to circulate irrelevant mails. All pertinent mails will feature in the Digests. We apologise for the delay in circulating some of the mails. With this feature becoming regular, we hope to disseminate in time.

Here is the first Digest:
Item 1: UP Appoints A Human Rights Commission
Uttar Pradesh has appointed a HRC after pressure from the UP PUCL. The mail contains the details of the composition of the commission.

Item 2: PUCL Invites You To The 5th State Convention In Chittorgarh (Rajasthan) On 23-24 November 2002
PUCL Rajasthan is having its convention to which you are invited. They are looking at this Convention as an opportunity to consolidate and plan afresh strategies for addressing human rights in the State. Simultaneous one-day discussion workshops have been planned on the following themes: security legislations and custodial violence, dalit rights, rights of minorities and drought and food security, deaths and damage due to landmines, expansion of the nuclear bomb and energy programme in Rajasthan, revival of Sati and its glorification etc.

Item 3: Sutradhar Open Forum - Bangalore, 9 November 2002
The government-run ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) has over 40,000 anganwadi centres in Karnataka. These offer a cluster of services such as health, education and nutrition to ensure early childhood development, the first step towards equal educational opportunity for all. Lakshmi Krishnamurthy & Vani Periodi will share with us their study on anganwadi centres in Karnataka. The discussion will be both in English and Kannada.

Item 4: The Situation In Baran And Call For Help
Komal Srivastava calls for help in Baran, Rajasthan and gives an account of the situation there, the government response, etc.

To read the full text of the mails, please check http://geocities.com/righttofood/links/digest.html
The mails of the previous 2 weeks would be kept in this section.

10. Reminders
We end with the usual reminders:

  1. Please visit/publicise our website, http://geocities.com/righttofood
  2. If your organisation has a newsletter, please consider using or reprinting items from this Update to help spread awareness of the campaign.
  3. If you are an active member of the campaign, please send us information from to time about your activities, for inclusion in future Updates.

Contributions to the Right to Food Update may be sent to right2food@yahoo.co.in

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