Supreme Court Questions Centre's Claim Of No Starvation Deaths In India; AG Says States Haven't Reported
"Are you willing to say, today in this country there are no starvation deaths? Can we afford to take that as a correct statement?" , the bench asked the aG
While hearing a plea seeking a pan-India policy for community kitchens, the Supreme Court of India on Tuesday asked the Attorney General of India why the Central Government is relying on a 2015-2016 report with regard to starvation deaths in the country.A bench comprising the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli, observed that the Government cannot look...
While hearing a plea seeking a pan-India policy for community kitchens, the Supreme Court of India on Tuesday asked the Attorney General of India why the Central Government is relying on a 2015-2016 report with regard to starvation deaths in the country.
A bench comprising the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli, observed that the Government cannot look at the issue of starvation deaths from the prism of what happened 5 years ago.
The remarks came after Attorney General for India KK Venugopal sought to rely on the National Family Health Survey 2015-2016, prepared by the International Institute of Population Sciences Bombay, to respond to Court's query as to whether there's a report published by the Government of India with statistics of starvation deaths.
The Attorney General informed the Bench that according to Centre's affidavit not a single State has reported starvation death in recent years.
"You can't be looking at it from the prism of what happened 5 years ago. Are you willing to say, today in this country there are no starvation deaths, except for one from Tamil Nadu, that also because it is reported in some newspaper? Can we afford to take that as a correct statement?" Justice Hima Kohli said.
The AG submitted that the Centre has to depend upon the states reporting the starvation deaths, and they have not reported a single death.
It may be noted that the Union of India in its affidavit filed in the present case has stated that based on the inputs received from States/UTs, no starvation deaths have been reported by the States and Union Territories in recent years in their respective geographical areas. According to the Centre, due to the comprehensive policies and steps taken by both State and Central Governments, there have been no starvation deaths in the country in recent times, even during adverse situations like the pandemic.
The Bench then referred to the National Family Health Survey report 2019-2021 filed by the petitioner which was published by the Government of India and provides statistics for 2010-2013. The reports state that the communicable paternal, maternal and malnutrition conditions in the country is 25.7 % for male & 30.4 % for female.
The Bench asked the AG if the Central Government can provide the latest data about starvation deaths, as the statistics available with the Bench being the National Family Health Survey report 2019-2021 is very old. However, in response, the AG referred to a report of the National Family Health Survey 2015-2016 instead.
Advocate Ashima Mandla appearing for the petitioner informed the Court that starvation deaths can't be reported unless there is an autopsy done on the body of the deceased. She added that unless and until an endeavour is made by state or local body on checking whether death is a starvation death, the same cannot be determined, and since 2019 no State has come forward to report starvation deaths, though media reports do report it.
The Attorney General then suggested that States may file an affidavit with statistics of the starvation deaths from their respective states.
Therefore, while adjourning the matter for two weeks, the Bench granted liberty to the State Governments to file affidavits on issues of malnutrition, starvation deaths etc if they want to and also make suggestions to the Centre with regard to formulation of a model scheme.
The Court has asked the Union of India to consider preparing a model scheme for community kitchens across the country and providing additional food grains to the States in this regard.
The Bench however clarified that the logistical issues, as far as the scheme is concerned, will have to be taken care of by the States.
The Court was hearing the writ petition which seeks the formulation of a community kitchen policy to avoid starvation deaths.
On last occasion ( 16th November 2021) the Supreme Court on Tuesday granted 3 weeks time to the Central Government, as a last opportunity, to frame a pan-India policy on community kitchens, after taking the view of different state governments.
The Court had emphasised that a welfare state has a constitutional duty to ensure that no one dies of hunger.
The Bench had also recorded unhappiness over the affidavit filed by the under-secretary of the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Administration. The bench observed that the Principal Secretary had to file the affidavit.
On October 27, the Court had passed an order directing the Central Government to come up with a scheme for establishing pan-India community kitchens, after interacting with the state governments.
The Bench was informed that pursuant to the October 27 order, a virtual meeting was held by the Centre with the States to obtain their views on community kitchen schemes, and the information about that has been provided in the affidavit.
The Attorney General had undertaken that the Centre will come out with a concrete scheme. He said that something can be worked out within the framework of the National Food Security Act.
The CJI had agreed that the scheme needs to have a statutory framework, so that it cannot be discontinued on a change of policy. The Attorney General sought for 3 weeks time to hold the meeting and finalize the scheme. The bench agreed.
Case Title : Anun Dhawan and others versus Union of India and others, WP(c) No.1103/2019.