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The Supreme Court has asked the Central government and States to work together to effectively implement the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFS Act).
A Bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and NV Ramana also made some pertinent observations in the judgment regarding Federalism and the role of Union and States while urging the Centre to exercise powers under Article 256 of the Constitution, which provides for ‘Obligation of States and the Union’. Justice Ramana delivered a separate concurring judgment.
The case is a petition filed by Swaraj Abhiyan regarding drought in different States and effective implementation of NFS Act.
Justice Lokur begins his judgment by asking
What can the Government of India do to require the State Governments and Union Territories to make functional those bodies and authorities that are mandated by a law passed by Parliament (such as the National Food Security Act, 2013)?
The judgment goes on to state the answer:
The answer to this is provided in Article 256 of our Constitution – perhaps a forgotten provision …the Government of India cannot plead helplessness in requiring State Governments to implement parliamentary laws.
The Court then goes on to discuss the position regarding implementation of NFS Act in various States. Noting that compliance with the Act, particularly constitution of State Food Commissions was pathetic in most States, the Court goes on to say:
“We are in general agreement with learned counsel for the petitioner and the fact that even after prodding by the Central Government and our prodding, many of the State Governments have not yet established a working State Food Commission, this is a clear indication that there is hardly any commitment to the implementation of the NFS Act.…compliance with the NFS Act is pathetic to say the least and it is in this background that we are required to consider this case.”
The Court was particularly critical of Haryana which, according to the Court, was unlikely to make any progress with regard to the implementation of the Act.
“In this regard, we are pained to read in the affidavit filed by the State of Haryana that there is hardly any work for the State Food Commission. With such an attitude, it is very unlikely that any progress will ever be made either by the State of Haryana or the State Food Commission in Haryana in the matter of food security. One can only feel sorry for the people in Haryana.”
The Court then proceeded to issue a slew of directions for effective implementation of the Act including meeting between Centre and States,
“to take stock of the implementation of the NFS Act and brainstorm over finding ways and means to effectively implement the provisions of the NFS Act in letter and spirit.”
Justice Ramana in his concurring judgment dealt with the need for co-operation between Centre and States so that the “cherished goal of co-operative Federalism” can be achieved.
“The principle of federalism as present in India cannot be explained in a sentence or two; rather a detailed study of the each and every provision of the Constitution would inevitably point that India has divided sovereignty in the form of Centre on one hand and States on the other. Each power house is independent in its own terms. The constitutional scheme invariably leads to the conclusion that at times these institutions meet and interact at various levels to achieve the cherished constitutional goal of co-operative federalism.”
Noting that the Centre is not powerless when States fail to Act, Justice Ramana in his judgment says:
“It is to be noted that our Constitutional set-up mandates that Center is not powerless which is apparent from various Articles of the Constitution. Further, it is not proper on the part of the States to ignore the plight of the common man in enforcing such important legislations, more so when such legislation is a welfare legislation….I am of the opinion that for now a meaningful dialogue between the Centre and the State should resolve the issues which have emerged in this case in the spirit of co-operative federalism.
Record indicates that a combined effort, both by Centre and States, needs to be taken for effective implementation of the Act especially in the draught affected areas so as to save people from abject poverty and poor quality of life. States should take up this matter with much more seriousness and implement the Act in its true letter and spirit.”
Read the full judgment below.