Supreme Court disposes of PIL warning of potential food scarcity arising out of COVID-19 lockdown
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Supreme Court disposes of PIL warning of potential food scarcity arising out of COVID-19 lockdown

Bar & Bench

The Supreme Court today disposed of a PIL warning of a potential food shortage that could arise out of a lack of availability of farm labour for harvest and sowing of crops, owing to the Coronavirus lockdown.

This PIL was taken up for hearing by the Bench of Justices NV Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and BR Gavai today via video conferencing. Today, the Court was informed that the main concern raised in the petition pertains to the farmers' lack of access to farm labour.

Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, NV Ramana, and BR Gavai
Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, NV Ramana, and BR Gavai

It was contended that in the absence of access to labour, farmers have no assistance to harvest their crops and that lack of facilities for transporting and selling of crops would affect supply chains, ultimately leading to crop loss and shortage of food.

As per the petitioner, the main concern at this point was the non-availability of farm hands in states like Punjab, Haryana and Telangana for harvesting the rabi crop, packing sacks, and loading and unloading activities in the mandis. In the absence of free movement of labour, these activities are facing serious disruption, the petitioner argued.

The petition also sought to point out that restrictions on movement imposed during the lockdown could also affect the kharif sowing activity in light of lack of access to labour, seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides. This sowing season normally extends up to the onset of the monsoon, which starts roughly around mid-June.

Disruption in farming activity, even though on account of lockdown due to a health crisis, would not only affect the livelihood of farmers, but also has the potential to cause shortage of food supply should the crop be lost, the petition claims.

In response to these concerns, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Court that the issues raised in the petition are being looked into by the government. He also informed the Court that farming activities have been afforded certain relaxations under the fresh guidelines issued by the Union Home Ministry after the nation-wide lockdown was extended till May 3.

While noting the importance of the issues raised, the Court took on record the assurance given by the Centre that the concerns raised in the PIL would be brought to the notice of the concerned and relevant inistries.

The Court also allowed the petitioner to make additional recommendations to the Centre within a period of two days. With these observations, the Court disposed of the petition.

The petitioner was represented by Senior Counsel Nikhil Nayyar, who was briefed by teams from Keystone Partners (led by Arun Sri Kumar) and Samvad Partners (led by Harish Narasappa) The plea was filed through AoR Pritha Sri Kumar.

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