Supreme Court agrees to hear plea seeking setting up of community kitchens in India

A Bench comprising Chief Justice N. V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli was urged by lawyer Ashima Mandla that the issue becomes more important in view of COVID-19.

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to list for an urgent hearing the plea seeking directions to all States and Union Territories (UTs) to formulate a scheme for setting up of community kitchens across the country to combat hunger and malnutrition.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice N. V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli was urged by lawyer Ashima Mandla that the issue becomes more important in view of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

“I was heading the Bench which had issued a notice on it,” the Chief Justice of India said while fixing the PIL for hearing on October 27.

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The apex court, on February 17 last year, had imposed an additional cost of ₹5 lakh each on six States for not complying with its directions to file their affidavits on the PIL, which sought formulation of the scheme to set up community kitchens for the poor.

The additional cost of ₹5 lakh each was imposed on Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Goa and Delhi.

Advocate Ashima Mandla, appearing for the PIL petitioners, was asked by the Bench to prepare a chart of all the States who have filed their replies to the PIL.

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She had said 69% of children under the age of five have lost their lives due to malnutrition and it is high time that States took steps to set up community kitchens.

The apex court had on October 18, 2019, favoured setting up of community kitchens, saying the country needs this kind of a system to tackle the problem of hunger.

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It had issued notices to the Centre and all States asking for their responses on a PIL seeking directions to all the States and Union Territories (UTs) to formulate a scheme for community kitchens to combat hunger and malnutrition.

The plea had claimed that many children under the age of five die every day due to hunger and malnutrition and this condition was violative of various fundamental rights, including the right to food and life of citizens.

The PIL, filed by social activists Anun Dhawan, Ishann Dhawan and Kunjana Singh, had also sought a direction to the Centre for creating a national food grid for people falling outside the purview of the public distribution scheme. It had also sought issuance of an order to the National Legal Services Authority (NLSA) for formulating a scheme to mitigate hunger-related deaths.

The plea referred to the State-funded community kitchens being run in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Jharkhand and Delhi that serve meals at subsidised rates in hygienic conditions.

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The plea also referred to the concepts of soup kitchen, meal centre, food kitchen or community kitchen in other countries where food is offered to the hungry usually for free or sometimes at below-market price rates.

The petition had said that the Centre and its various Ministries have initiated and implemented various schemes to combat hunger, malnutrition and the resulting starvation, although in reality, effective implementation of the schemes was “unclear and fairly limited”.

The statistics on starvation deaths in the country are unavailable and starvation as the cause of death can only be ascertained upon autopsy after death, the plea said, adding that global agencies report that more than three lakh children die every year in India because of hunger, whereas 38% below the age of five are stunted.

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“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 the right to life does not mean mere existence, but life with dignity and on the other hand 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.

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It said that a 2010 report by the World Food Programme on the 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 a permanent food and nutrition emergency in India.

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