'People dying of hunger': SC directs Centre to formulate scheme on community kitchens
New Delhi, November 16, 2021
The Supreme Court on Tuesday noted that people are "suffering from hunger and dying of it", and directed the Centre to develop a scheme after consulting various state governments for creating community kitchens to prevent hunger deaths or malnutrition of children.
The top court was hearing a plea seeking the setting up of community kitchens across the country to address hunger and malnutrition.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N. V. Ramana told Attorney General K. K. Venugopal, "See, if you want to take care of hunger, no Constitution, law or court will say no. My suggestion again is... Already we're delaying, so further adjournments won't help... We'll give you a final time of two weeks, please hold that meeting (with state governments to develop a scheme)."
The Additional Solicitor General, representing the Centre, submitted that the issues which are raised in the writ petition with regard to creating community kitchens to take care of hunger deaths or malnutrition of children are under active consideration of the Centre, which is awaiting expert reports on the subject.
The bench said that unless state governments are involved, it is difficult to implement the scheme, and the Centre should come out with some policy decision to implement the community kitchen scheme after taking into consideration other similar schemes relating to community kitchens, which are already in operation in different states.
During the hearing, the top court was informed that incidents of hunger deaths and malnutrition of children have been reported from five states -- Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Bihar.
The Chief Justice told the Centre that "people are dying of hunger and malnutrition is a separate issue, do not mix them", adding that it is not bothered about the international malnutrition index, but it's only aim is to curb the hunger issues in the country.
The bench said that for any welfare state, the first responsibility is not to allow people to die of hunger.
At the beginning of the hearing, the bench, also comprising Justices A. S. Bopanna and Hima Kohli, slammed the Centre, stating that it appears from the affidavit and submissions of the Centre that it is still in the process of gathering suggestions on the matter.
The bench noted, "It looks like the government is not in a mood to implement the scheme..."
After hearing detailed arguments in the matter, the top court said that it will grant three weeks' time to the Central government to come up with some scheme, which is agreeable to various state governments.
"We feel that there is a need to coordinate with the state governments/Union Territories and their opinion should also be taken into consideration by the Union of India before finalisation of the Community Kitchen Scheme," the top court said in its order.
The bench noted that if the state governments have any objection, they will be taken up in the next hearing. "We direct all the states to cooperate with the government of India in coming up with a scheme," said the bench.
The petition filed by Anun Dhawan and others sought subsidised canteens in all the states and UTs to ensure food security in the backdrop of the havoc caused by the Covid1-9 pandemic.
The top court expressed its displeasure that the affidavit in the matter has been filed by the under secretary to the government of India.
"We direct that in future, some responsible officer of the rank of Secretary should file the affidavits in this matter," said the bench.