19 April 2012

Can Development be Delivered Through the Courts? Some Evidence from India

The title of this blog is inspired by Harsh Mander, one of the Indian Supreme Court's Special Advisers on the Right to Food. He has written a paper ("Food From the Courts") for an upcoming IDS Bulletin on food justice in India, co-produced with Oxfam India. (Biraj Swain, C.P. Chandrasekhar and I are co-editors.) When the Bulletin is published I will be sure to post a link to it. A worry of mine sparked by Mander's excellent paper was "how do we know if the benefits that flow from the right to food actually accrue to the poorest?"

Well, a new study by Brinks and Gauri reported in the Economist goes some way to addressing my worry. The paper estimates that 84% of the benefits derived from laws passed between 1950 and 2006 in India (not only from the right to food) accrue to the bottom 40%. That is a very high percentage.

On a related point the team (led by Stephen Devereux of IDS) appointed by the Steering Group to the High Level Panel of Experts that support the UN Committee on Food Security (phew) were at IDS working on the draft of their report on "Social Protection for Food Security". During the discussions around the draft report we were struck by the contrast between India (strong rights, less strong implementation of social protection) and Ethiopia (weaker rights, stronger implementation).

Clearly we need both rights and implementation, and the study by Brinks and Gauri for the first time suggests how much a set of laws backed by an activist civil society can deliver for the poorest.

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