Hunger deaths: Plea in SC for pan-India temporary community kitchens at Block-level
The unprecedented economic disruptions as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic may result increased food insecurity and rise in the number of hunger-related crises and deaths, says the petition
The Supreme Court has been moved in a plea seeking directions to the Centre and the states to set-up pan-India temporary community kitchens at the Block-level amid the pandemic of novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) to ensure that no person is forced to sleep on an empty stomach in these trying times, reports legal news website LiveLaw.in.
The applicants, through advocate Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi and Ashima Mandla submits that 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.
It is pointed out that the Global Hunger Index 2018 report prepared by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerlife ranked India at 103 out of 119 qualifying countries. India also scored 31.1, indicating that it suffers from a level of hunger that is critical and serious.
The plea states: "Hunger, malnutrition and starvation crises is prevalent in the country despite of various interventions by the central and state governments are running various schemes such as The Public Distribution System (PDS); Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY);The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, also known as "Mid-Day Meal Scheme";The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS);Annapurna Scheme; The National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS);The National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS); and The National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS) to name a few. Furthermore, the Parliament of India in 10.09.2013 enacted the National Food Security Act causing a paradigm shift in the approach food security from welfare to rights based approach".
It is advanced that the vice of food insecurity in the country has gravely and rampantly risen in the background of the present pandemic of COVID-19, with an exponential increase in the numbers of persons both prone and subjected to hunger crises and starvation, and deaths resulting thereof.”
"The states and Union Territories in their respective reply affidavits/ counter affidavits (in the main writ petition for establishment of pan-India community kitchens funded by the Government or by PPP funding, and creation of a national food grid) have analysed and deliberated upon the model of community kitchens as well as other schemes which are either
covered under the purview of the National Security Act, 2013 or those outside its ambit," it is submitted.
Moreover, it is argued that the Apex Court has verbally expressed its affirmation to the requirement of the implementation of pan-India community kitchens what can be termed as “normal times‟ before the outbreak of the pandemic. "However, the present application has been moved by the applicants with the objective to seek the intervention of this court by directing pan-India establishment of “temporary‟ community kitchens as an effort to contain the parallel extraordinary food crises due to economic shutdown. It is imperative to imbibe the magnitude and extent of the present food crises as being unprecedented, extraordinary and indefinite and thereby impinging upon the fundamental right of “Right to Food‟ under Article 21", it is averred, reported LiveLaw.in.
"The present pandemic has proved to be fatal for a percentage of persons contracting the novel Coronavirus. However, the unprecedented economic disruptions as a consequence of the aforementioned pandemic may result increased food insecurity and rise in the number of hunger-related crises and deaths...nearly 19 crore persons in our country are forced to sleep on an empty stomach even in what we may refer as “the normal times‟; and now with the lockdown to contain COVID-19, hunger threatens even a larger population of persons for whom buying food is outside their budgetary capacity. To an extent, the fear of lack of food for basic sustenance drove the migrant workers to risk their lives and potentially that of others, in an attempt to travel to their hometowns", it is iterated.
It is indicated that “community kitchens‟ has been implemented in various states by the state government as well as private persons/Non-
Governmental Organisations (NGO‟s) as a rudimental surviving stimulus in these trying times.
The Ministry of Rural Development in an April 13 press release states that amid the present lockdown owing to global pandemic of COVID-19, Community Kitchens have emerged as an empirical solution to feed those in need.
Besides, it was stated that the collaboration of Self Help Groups (SHGs) in every Gram Panchayat along with the Local Government has resulted in the setting up of 10,000 community kitchens across five states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, to name a few; wherein an approximate number of 70,000 persons are fed two meals a day.
"Amidst the lockdown, the central government has announced 5kg extra food grains and 1kg of pulses free of cost for 3 months for every Indian enrolled in the PDS. However, making reference to statistics quoted in an article published in Quartz India, it is alleged that in our country, more than 100 million people are excluded from the PDS because of the reliance of the Centre on the 2011 census figures to calculate the State-wise coverage under the National Food Security Act, 2013," the plea lamented.