Comparative Studies in Society and History

Research Article

Food and Welfare in India, c. 1900–1950

Sunil S. Amritha1

a1 Birkbeck College, University of London

In 2001, the People's Union for Civil Liberties submitted a writ petition to the Supreme Court of India on the “right to food.” The petitioner was a voluntary human rights organization; the initial respondents were the Government of India, the Food Corporation of India, and six state governments. The petition opens with three pointed questions posed to the court:

  • A. Does the right to life mean that people who are starving and who are too poor to buy food grains ought to be given food grains free of cost by the State from the surplus stock lying with the State, particularly when it is reported that a large part of it is lying unused and rotting?
  • B. Does not the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India include the right to food?
  • C. Does not the right to food, which has been upheld by the Honourable Court, imply that the state has a duty to provide food especially in situations of drought, to people who are drought affected and are not in a position to purchase food?


Acknowledgments: I am very grateful to Emma Rothschild and Chandak Sengoopta for their comments on an earlier draft. The anonymous reports from CSSH reviewers were invaluable in helping me to revise the essay; I have scarcely been able to do justice to their thoughtful critical readings. I am solely responsible for any mistakes and misunderstandings that remain.