Realising the right to food in India: Insights from the Midday Meal Scheme in Rajasthan

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Whittaker, Lana 

This thesis examines the everyday realisation of rights in India’s school-feeding programme, the Midday Meal Scheme. The commitment to realising the right to food in India is well-established. In 2001, a petition to the Supreme Court and subsequent orders made existing food-based schemes (including the Midday Meal Scheme) a legal entitlement under a right to food. These schemes then became the core components of the National Food Security Act in 2013. In consequence, eligible children in India have a right to a MDM that adheres to specific guidelines and have a broader right to food. Despite these commitments to rights, the extent to which India’s food-based social protection schemes reflect a rights-based approach has not, hitherto, been explored. Indeed, although the importance of state-led, rights-based social protection schemes to address food insecurity is now widely recognised, the relationship between these means and ends has been insufficiently explored. In this context, drawing on nearly one year of mixed-methods research in the Indian state of Rajasthan, I examine the extent to which India’s Midday Meal Scheme adheres to a rights-based approach to realising food security. To do so, I examine three components of a rights-based system in the context of the scheme: rights-holders and their entitlements; duty-bearers and their duties; and the mechanisms through which duty-bearers can be held to account for the non-fulfilment of their obligations. I draw on detailed field research in two districts to show that, in its present form, the scheme is limited from the perspective of rights. Not all those in need are necessarily included in the scheme; the food that rights- holders receive often does not meet their needs, duty-bearers fail to adequately fulfil their duties; and accountability mechanisms fail to hold them accountable. Consequently, rights-holders often do not receive their entitlements and the right to food remains unfulfilled. Overall, I show that the realisation of rights to depends on the capabilities of rights-holders to realise their rights and on the capacity and motivation of duty-bearers to fulfil their duties.

Vira, Bhaskar
Right to food, Food Security, India, Midday Meal Scheme
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
ESRC 1+3 Studentship