Thursday, March 13, 2008

UN Rapporteur asks India to take steps to ensure Right to Food

The following is a press release issued by the Asian Legal Resources Centre, Hong Kong:

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in his report to the Seventh UN Human Rights Council has expressed serious concerns regarding the right to food in India. The report dated February 29, 2008 has cited at least a dozen cases concerning the right to food in which the Rapporteur has requested the immediate attention and affirmative action of the Government of India.

In his communications with the government, the Rapporteur has expressed specific concern about the Public Food Distribution System (PDS) in India. Additionally, the Rapporteur has expressed concern about the non-accessibility to the government health services for the Dalit community in the rural and urban areas.

The Rapporteur has also cited instances of corruption in the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) programme in his report. Widespread corruption in the NREG systematically denies the programme’s benefit to the poor.

The cases cited by the Rapporteur were reported to his office by various non-governmental organizations within and outside India, including the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC). The ALRC has also made a written submission to the UN Human Rights Council on the issue of the right to food. The report titled ‘Starvation deaths ongoing due to administrative neglect’ prepared by the ALRC was released on 21 February 2008.

The Government of India’s delegation, in reply to the Rapporteur’s report, merely thanked the Rapporteur for his work and for his visit to India in 2005. In the statement made by the Government of India on March 11, 2008 the government has promised that it is considering implementing the recommendations made by the Rapporteur to prevent malnutrition and starvation in India. However, nothing is visible in India that demonstrates the performance of this promise or even a preparation for it.

This fact is proved by the death of 18-month-old Alina Shahin in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh. Alina died on 13 September 2007. At the time of death, Alina was suffering from Grade IV malnutrition. In an attempt to save Alina’s life, her family had taken Alina to the local public health centre, where she was denied treatment. Alina’s sister who accompanied her to the health centre was assaulted by the staff at the centre. This case was reported by the AHRC to the Rapporteur and also to the Indian authorities. However, the Indian authorities did not take any action in this case. Alina’s case is sited in the Rapporteur’s report.

The ALRC in its written submission to the Seventh Human Rights Council has categorically stated that the concerns regarding the failure in ensuring the right to food cannot be addressed in India without taking concrete actions to prevent corruption within the government health care services and the PDS system in India. Concerning the malnutrition among the Dalit and the other lower caste communities, the ALRC in its submission has also pointed out that the continuation of the caste based discrimination in India is one more reason for starvation deaths in India.

In the recent past, the ALRC and the AHRC have also reported that human rights activists reporting cases of human rights violations from India are systematically targeted by the local administration to silence them. In a recent incident reported by the AHRC, the AHRC has expressed concern about the case of the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) when its staff was charged with false cases under the direction of the Varanasi district administration.

Systematic denial of human rights is increasingly reported from India. In spite of this, the Government of India has initiated practically nothing to prevent human rights violations in India, particularly concerning the right to food and caste based discrimination. However, the Government of India wastes no opportunity to make promises and statements. The statement made by the Government of India at the seventh Human Rights Council is nothing but an addition to this empty rhetoric.

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