The Bombay High Court on Monday issued a writ of mandamus directing the State government to set up a State Food Commission under the National Food Security Act. In an order dated July 24, 2019, Court had given the state "last opportunity" to constitute State Food Commission as contemplated by Section 16 of the National Food Security Act, 2013.
The bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nadrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre expressed its disappointment-
"With regret, we note that for the last over six years, the State Government has taken no steps to constitute the State Food Commission in the State of Maharashtra."
In July, another bench headed by the Chief Justice had also warned that if the State Government fails to do so, the Court would be constrained to constitute the State Food Commission.
Court has been hearing a batch of petitions dating as far back as 2010, seeking implementation of the provisions of the said act.
National Food Security Act
The object of National Food Security Act, 2013 was to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people so that they can live a life of dignity.
Under the act, the State Government has to carry out the necessary survey and identify households which would be the beneficiary of the Targeted Public Distribution System. Expectant mothers, lactating mothers need to be identified, in the rural areas in particular, through cooperation with local anganwadi workers so that under the Integrated Women and Child Schemes of the Government, nutrition can be provided to these ladies. With the help of anganwadi workers, children upto the age of 14 years are to be screened and those who are found to be suffering from malnutrition are to be identified so that nutritional meals could be supplied to them. For the aged and the infirm, free meals through local anganwadis have to be provided for.
One of the petitions filed in 2017, by activist Alka Kambale highlights the unfortunate death of a widow mother, aged 36 years, having two children, one of whom was visually disabled. The lady died due to starvation. The petition highlights that no proper survey was done to identify the beneficiaries under the Targeted Public Distribution System. Also, a lack of proper guidelines based whereon the Targeted Beneficiaries would find their names in the computer system. The petition alleges that the State Government was just entering the names of the existing Ration Card holders in the computer systems to identify ghost beneficiaries.
It was also pointed out in the petition that State Government was not taking steps to carry out proper surveys by visiting the household to identify malnourished mothers and children.
"Now, if the State Food Commission had been constituted, we could have directed the State Food Commission to look at the grievances raised in the Public Interest Litigations and ensure through the District Grievance Redressal Officers compliance with the provisions of National Food Security Act, 2013."
However, since the state failed to constitute the said commission, Court said-
"Time has therefore, come for us to terminate proceedings in the Public Interest Litigations with a mandamus issued to the Principal Secretary, Ministry of Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection to constitute the State Food Commission in the State of Maharashtra by notifying each name of the Chairperson, five members and a Member Secretary of the Maharashtra Sate Food Commission within four weeks from today."
Click here to download the order