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[Food Security in Containment Zones] State appoints officer to oversee BBMP operations as Karnataka HC stops short of taking contempt action

While noting that non-compliance of its orders in the present matter is a classic case of contempt, the Court refrained from initiating such action, opining that identifying needy persons was more important.

Rintu Mariam Biju

Expressing dissatisfaction with the efforts made by Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) in distributing food kits to the needy in COVID-19 containment zones, the Karnataka High Court on Thursday asked the state government to nominate a senior officer to supervise all operations of the municipal body in this regard.

This direction came in a set of pleas seeking food security and rations for the poor in the city's COVID-19 containment zones.

On this aspect, Additional Advocate General Dhyan Chinnappa, appearing on behalf of the State, informed a Bench headed by Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka that G Kumar Naik, Principal Secretary of Social Welfare Department, will be nominated to supervise the BBMP’s implementation of the Court's orders.

In this regard, the Court directed Naik to file a report on the steps taken by BBMP to implement its previous orders by July 24.

Thus, the Court directed,

"The officials of BBMP will take all possible steps to identify needy persons in those containment zones in which slum areas are included and ensure food packets and ration kits are immediately supplied to the needy people."

Karnataka High Court

BBMP must ensure that food packets must be delivered to the doorsteps of needy people, the Court went on to add.

In its order, the Court also noted that no helpline had been created to enable needy persons within containment zones to file complaints about the unavailability of food.

The Bench also noted the aspect of supply of ration kits after verification of identity documents. The Court clarified that the production of identity cards can be insisted upon only to ensure that no one takes double benefit of the food kit distribution, and to create a record of persons to whom ration kits have been supplied.

"We don't think that it a proper approach on the part of BBMP to suggest that on the basis of documents produced by individuals, BBMP officials will decide whether a person is needy or not."

During the hearing, the Bench was further informed that there are 5,598 Containment Zones at present.

While noting that non-compliance of its orders in the present matter is a classic case of contempt, the Court, however, refrained from doing so, opining that identifying needy persons was more important.

"In fact, this is a fit case where action under Contempt of Courts Act could have be initiated against top ranking municipal officers. However, we are of the view that sending top-ranking officers of the BBMP to civil prisons will not resolve the issue at this point of time. What is more crucial at this point of time is that the provisions of SOP governing containment zones are strictly implemented... more importantly, needy persons must get adequate ration and food packets."

Recently, the Karnataka High Court had fumed over the lethargic attitude of the BBMP in providing food kits and rations to the poor in the city's COVID-19 containment zones.

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