Supreme Court seeks Centre’s response in plea to set up Community Kitchens

Supreme Court seeks Centre’s response in plea to set up Community Kitchens

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today issued notice in a public interest litigation  seeking the setting up of community kitchens to combat hunger in the country.

The plea sought the involvement of National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to monitor the exercise of setting up of these kitchens. However, Justice NV Ramana, who was on the Bench with Justice Ajay Rastogi, asked what the legal question involved in the plea was that required involvement of NALSA.

Though it was reluctant to involve NALSA in the matter, the Court went on to issue notice to the Centre in the petition.

The plea filed by activists Anun Dhawan, Ishann Dhawan and Kunjana Singh, through Advocates Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi, Ashima Mandla and Mandakini Singh, makes the following prayers:

  • Direct the Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories to formulate a scheme for the implementation of community kitchens and to further ensure that no person should sleep on an empty stomach.
  • Direct the National Legal Services Authority to formulate a scheme to further the provisions of Article 51A of the Constitution of India in order to mitigate deaths resulting from hunger, malnutrition and starvation.
  • Direct the Central Government to create a national food grid for those persons beyond the scope of the Public Distribution Scheme (PDS).

The prayers have been made citing the acute problem of malnutrition and starvation deaths that continue to take place in India, in violation of the Right to Food and inspite of various food security schemes introduced by the government.

“…in-spite of various schemes in operation, the figures pertaining to hunger-related deaths is at an alarming high, and even in the case where death has not occurred, the mere fact that an estimated figure of 19 crore people going to sleep on an empty stomach in this country, itself is socially and morally unjust and perturbing, as food is rudimental to survival.

The petitioners point out that India is placed at 103 out of 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2018 report prepared by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe.

The petitioners also point towards the lack of comprehensive data to properly estimate just how dire the hunger situation is in India. Amidst various other submissions, the petitioners have also stated that starvation/malnutrition deaths are caused in India owing to lack of Aadhaar linkage with ration cards. On these aspects, the petitions states,

“… the irony of the present situation is reflected by a group of activists reported 56 deaths owing to starvation between 2015-2018, out of which 42 deaths took place between 2017-2018; while 25 of the 42 deaths were solely related to non-linking of Aadhaar with Ration Card or loss of Ration Card, with the highest deaths recorded in Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. It is stoutly emphasized at this juncture that the aforesaid figure is not in no way exhaustive but representative of the severity of the issue prevailing in our country.”

The petitioners go on to argue that state-funded community kitchens may be a possible way to resolve the food accessibility crisis. In this regard, successful models of community kitchens in various states in India as well as similar models in countries like. US, UK and Canada have been cited. Referring to the successes of these models, the petitioners further argue that community kitchens would not only ameliorate the hunger crisis in India, but also serve to provide employment.

It is pertinent to note that the concept of state-funded community kitchens is not a novelty concept in the country or globally and States such as Tamil Nadu (Amma Unavagam), Rajasthan (Annapurna Rasoi), Karnataka (Indira Canteens), Delhi (Aam Aadmi Canteen), Andhra Pradesh (Anna Canteen), Jharkhand (Mukhyamantri Dal Bhat) and Odisha (Ahaar Centre) have established the same with the object of combating hunger and malnutrition crisis in the nation, providing nutritious food at subsidized rates to the lower socio-economic strata of the society.

Furthermore, the personnel employed in these community kitchens provide employment, which is an added advantage in this economy where even joblessness is rampantly on the rise, adding to the cycle of hunger and malnutrition.

In this backdrop, the petitioners have called on the Supreme Court’s intervention to facilitate the setting up of country-wide community kitchens to supplement existing food security schemes. The petitioners have also suggested that such kitchens be managed with state funding or as a Public-Private Partnership activity with funding as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.

[Read Order]

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