SOCIAL CANVAS Food, education, health for all still miles away
The celebration of the Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav should cause us to seriously review all the promises we made during the struggle for freedom and later in the implementation of constitutional mandates, especially the most important mandate – l 21 – which says about the right to life and personal life. Freedom. The realization of Article 21 of the Constitution can only be possible by guaranteeing universal food security, universal primary education and health care for all. Everyone’s life should be meaningful, complete, and the living should be worthy.
The right to livelihood is part of the right to life as interpreted by the Supreme Court. In this context, food security is one of the most basic and non-negotiable areas of rights that is very fundamental to human existence. Food security for all has been quite challenging with the changing global socio-economic and political scenario. World leaders expect universal food security for all to be achieved by 2030, but Covid-19 has slowed the economy and thus made the goal more difficult.
Most of the time, a large population in Africa, South and West Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Oceania has been shaken by acute poverty, hunger and malnutrition. India ranks 71st out of 113 countries in the world in the Global Food Security Index 2021. Countries like China are well ahead of India and the top countries in the index are Ireland, India. Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Finland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, Japan and France. The Food Security Index measures food security based on factors such as affordability, availability, quality and safety, natural resources and resilience.
Government of India has many programs such as National Food Security Act 2013, Eat Right India Movement, POSHANA Abhiyan, Food Fortification, ICDS and National Innovation in Climate Resilient Agriculture for stop the growing hunger and malnutrition in the country, especially among vulnerable communities while increasing production in any type of adverse situation.
The Eat Right India movement of the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) aims to tackle negative nutritional trends that impact the spread of lifestyle-related diseases. Rice fortification was pioneered in India to combat malnutrition. Rice fortification was achieved by coating, dusting and extrusion to add iron, zinc, folic acid, vitamin A and B12. The state of Chhattisgarh has already launched the fortified rice program under a targeted public distribution system.
Odisha is one of the poorest states in India, with 80% of its population according to the 2011 census dependent on rich and free (Re 1) distribution schemes under the Food Security Act 2013 national. Even parts of the interior of the state and more particularly, the vulnerable social groups and ethnic communities are even more prone to hunger and malnutrition. The state government operates a Food Security Scheme (SFSS) which provides 5 kg of rice at Re 1 added to NFSA beneficiaries selected in the 2011 census.
It is not good for the economic, social and political health of a state where a large part of the population depends on free diets. Odisha must overcome the situation and ensure food security. The state is also at high risk of malnutrition. In view of malnutrition issues, NITI Aayog has identified 15 districts in the country, including the tribal dominated Malkangiri district, to implement fortified rice programs and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has been invited to coordinate with rice mills for this purpose. In addition to these measures, the central government has also launched the National Innovation in Climate Resilient Agriculture to improve preparedness to face the challenges of climate change and its impact on the agricultural sector and food production. Odisha is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Apart from food security, the other two important areas related to the right to life and dignity are universal primary education and universal health care, which are equally important for building quality human resources and a civilized society. Education is one of the main means of social and economic transformation of any society. Historically, primary education has been neglected in the country including Odisha with some states like Kerala excepted. Even today, despite the RTE law, the objective of establishing universal, free and compulsory primary schooling is still a long way off. Many industrialized countries in the world, such as China, started by building universal primary education.
A UNESCO report on universal education goals says India will achieve universal primary education by 2050. A recent trend in education shows a gradual withdrawal of government from responsibility for providing education primary education and to encourage private enterprise in the education sector. There are varieties of schools which lack uniformity, banality and universality in many respects. School infrastructure, teachers and teaching methodology and many related things vary and also the lack of equality in terms of status. The education system discriminates against the poor and people from lower social strata to access education on an equal footing.
So-called boarding schools ghettoize children from backward communities, lower castes and ethnic groups in the name of separate schools and places of residence. When will children of all castes and classes sit together, stay together and read together in common schools for all? Many of our special boarding schools for the poor and excluded groups are socially non-inclusive and lack universality. Ideally, there should be a common school system and all students should benefit from the same state-provided facilities without discrimination of any kind.
Similarly, in the healthcare sector, many countries like Cuba, Brazil, China, and Mexico have moved towards universal basic healthcare facilities for their people. In any civilized country, no one should suffer from lack of treatment facilities due to poor financial condition. But there has been a trend towards the privatization of the health sector and the reduction of the role of government which will deprive a majority of our population of the right to life due to their social and economic status. Covid-19 has well exposed our vulnerability in terms of poor public health infrastructure, shortage of doctors, health workers, medicines and many more that need to be overcome with a universal healthcare approach to all as a constitutional mandate. Central and state elected governments must act to meet the right to life and dignity to become a model for the rest of the world while celebrating the legacies of the freedom struggle and the constitution.