The Supreme Court on Monday sought response from the Centre and others on a plea seeking directions to all the states and Union Territories to formulate a scheme for implementing the concept of community kitchens to combat hunger, malnutrition and deaths due to starvation.
A bench comprising justices N V Ramana and Ajay Rastogi issued notices to the Centre and others on the plea which also sought a direction to the National Legal Services Authority (NLSA) to formulate a scheme to mitigate deaths resulting from hunger, malnutrition and starvation.
At the outset, the bench wondered how NALSA was related to the issue.
"Why should NALSA be involved in this?" the bench asked advocate Ashima Mandla, appearing for petitioners and social activists Anun Dhawan, Ishann Dhawan and Kunjana Singh.
The bench initially said these are policy matters and it is for the government to take a decision on these issues.
Later, the bench agreed to examine the issue and asked the Centre, various other ministries and the NALSA to file their responses.
The public interest litigation (PIL) has sought a direction to the Centre to create a national food grid for people who are beyond the scope of the public distribution scheme (PDS).
The plea has alleged that many children under the age of five die every day due to hunger and malnutrition and this condition was violative of several fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution, including the right to food and life of citizens.
The plea has referred to state-funded community kitchens being run in states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Jharkhand and Delhi that serve meals at subsidised rates in hygienic conditions.
It also referred to the concepts of soup kitchen, meal centre, food kitchen or community kitchen, in other countries, where food is offered to hungry usually for free or sometimes at a below-market price.
The petition said the Centre and its various ministries have initiated and implemented schemes to combat hunger, malnutrition and the resulting starvation, although in reality, effective implementation of the schemes "was unclear and fairly limited".
"In the interest of justice and for entitlement of nutritious food, which has been held as a basic fundamental and human right, in both national and international law, alike, the establishment of community kitchens may be directed as an added mechanism for provision of nutritious food with the intent of holistically combating eradication of hunger, malnutrition and starvation in the country, and diseases, illnesses and deaths resulting thereof," the plea said.
The statistics on starvation deaths in the country are unavailable and starvation as the cause of death can only be ascertained upon autopsy, the plea said, adding that global agencies report that over three lakh children die every year in India because of hunger, whereas 38 per cent below the age of five are stunted.
"Implementation of community kitchens funded by state or in association with corporate social responsibility by a public-private partnership (PPP) may be implemented to complement the existing schemes," it said.
"Article 21 embarks that right to life does not mean mere existence, but life with dignity... the Centre and state governments as well as ministries in the present grim scenario have failed to fulfil their obligations for effectively providing food security in the country," the plea said.
It said that a 2010 report by World Food Programme on state of food insecurity in India indicates that increasing urban inequality, significant under-investment in urban health and nutrition infrastructure, workforce in casual or contract employment or even less remunerative self-employment, growth of slums and slum populations lacking in most basic health and hygiene infrastructure has resulted in permanent food and nutrition emergency in India.
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