People's Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India & Ors, In the Supreme Court of India, Civil Original Jurisdiction, Writ Petition (Civil) No.196 of 2001

The PUCL claimed that starvation deaths had occurred despite excess grain stocks leading to a violation of the right to food; Court found right to life imperilled; orders for implementation of famine code, food schemes and midday meals in schools.

Date of the Ruling: 
Nov 30 2001
Supreme Court of India
Type of Forum: 

Starvation deaths had occurred in the state of Rajasthan, despite excess grain being kept for official times of famine, and various schemes throughout India for food distribution were also not functioning. In 2001, the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) petitioned the court for enforcement of both the food schemes and the Famine Code, a code permitting the release of grain stocks in times of famine. They grounded their arguments on the right to food, deriving it from the right to life. Over two years, various interim orders were made by the court were made over two years, but with meagre implementation by the national and state governments. In 2003, the court issued a strong judgment which found the right to life was imperilled due to the failure of the schemes. The Court noted that paradox of food being available in granaries but that the poor were starving and it refused to hear arguments concerning the non-availability of resources given the severity of the situation. The court ordered that: the Famine Code be implemented for three months; grain allocation for the food for work scheme be doubled and financial support for schemes be increased; ration shop licensees must stay open and provide the grain to families below the poverty line at the set price; publicity be given to the rights of families below the poverty line to grain; (5) all individuals without means of support (older persons, widows, disabled adults) are to be granted an Antyodaya Anna Yozana ration card for free grain; (6) and State governments should progressively implement the mid-day meal scheme in schools.

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

Colin Gonsalves, lawyer for PUCL, has stated that ‘It is one of the most successful cases we have done; it had had a nationwide effect. After the judgment … the right-to-food campaign has taken off, with hundreds of groups joining the campaign. There has been some improvement with government programmes. In fact, if we had not done the case, the entire programme would have closed down. Take the mid-day meal scheme … for children in schools. The programme had virtually closed down [but after] the order, the mid-day meal has been restarted in six to eight states.' ( As of 2012, Supreme Court hearings on the right to food (PUCL vs Union of India and others, Civil Writ Petition 196 of 2001) have been held at regular intervals since April 2001. Though the judgement is still awaited, interim orders have been passed from time to time. (

Groups involved in the case: 


People’s Union for Civil Liberties
81 Sahayoga apartments Mayur Vihar - I Delhi 110091, India
91-11-2492342 Lawyers for the petitioners included Colin Gonsalves of SLIC:

Colin Gonsalves
Currently at the Human Rights Law Network - HRLN (

Significance of the Case: 

The case has been significant in not only catalyzing an Indian-wide movement for implementation of various food schemes but it has also become widely discussed in the global right to food movement and in research on right to food.

“Since 2001, the Supreme Court’s interim orders have served to define gradually and with increasing detail, India’s constitutional right to food.[1] These decisions in the PUCL case have been significant in at least three ways: by recognizing the right to food as a fundamental right within the meaning of the right to life; by spelling out in detail the entitlements that make up the right food and making the same enforceable; and finally, by creating a mechanism for the continuous monitoring and reporting of the implementation of the Court’s decisions.” (Gauri and Poorvi, 2014).