The Eighth Kolkata Group Workshop, chaired by Amartya Sen, has argued for creating durable legal entitlements that guarantee the right to food for all in the country. Sen stressed the need for firm recognition of the right to food, and comprehensive legislation to guarantee everyone the right. The Eighth Kolkata Group Workshop was held in Kolkata between February 15 and 16, 2010, and saw the participation of over 50 people from various walks of life -- policymakers, opinion leaders, social scientists, scholars, activists and development experts -- to discuss dimensions of injustice relating to elementary education, food security, health, women’s work, and non-discrimination.
‘A Right to Food Act covering justiciable food entitlements should be non-discriminatory and universal. Entitlements guaranteed by the Act should include foodgrain from the Public Distribution System (PDS), school meals, nutrition services for children below the age of six years, social security provision, and allied programmes,’ a statement released by the group said.
The Kolkata Group meets once a year to explore the many inter-connections between inequality, deprivation, human development and democracy. Its special focus has been on examining ways of advancing people’s health and education. Organisations supporting the Kolkata Group include Unicef-India and the Harvard-based Global Equity Initiative, besides Sen’s Pratichi Trust.
This year’s workshop, the eighth in the annual series, was on ‘Eliminating Injustice’. It was structured broadly around the themes explored in Professor Sen’s most recent theoretical work, The Idea of Justice (Allen Lane, Penguin Books, 2009) and, like earlier workshops, drew on insights gained from surveys, other kinds of research, and practical experience.
On the basis of extensive discussions on the exceptionally high levels of under-nutrition in India, particularly among women and children, the Kolkata Group argued for firm recognition of the right to food in general and comprehensive legislation to guarantee the entitlement of food for all. Recent experience (including Supreme Court orders on the right to food as well as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) shows the value of putting economic and social rights in a legal framework. Legislation should recognise that food and nutritional security depends not just on food but on a set of related interventions that promote women’s health and nutrition, safe drinking water, proper sanitation and healthcare. Design and implementation should include effective public participation, grievance redressal provisions and independent monitoring.
The two-day workshop, structured into five sessions, began with a discussion on the different dimensions of injustice and addressed the challenge of eliminating injustice in the areas of elementary education, food and health, women, work and care, and tribals, dalits and minorities.
Among those who attended were Shabana Azmi, Asim Chakraborty, Seema Chishti, Abhijit Chowdhury, Nandita Das, Asim Dasgupta, Saibal Gupta, Syeda Hameed, Surinder Jodhka, Rohini Nilekani, Biraj Patnaik, N Ram, Mala Ramadorai, Kumar Rana, Abhijit Sen, Shanta Sinha, Sharmila Tagore, Sukhadeo Thorat and Sitaram Yechury.
Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.