Plea SC Seeks Establishment Of Community Kitchens Across The Country To Combat Hunger and Malnutrition[Read Petition]

Plea SC Seeks Establishment Of Community Kitchens Across The Country To Combat Hunger and Malnutrition[Read Petition]

A Public Interest Litigation has been filed in the Supreme Court, seeking to establish state-funded or Public Private Partnership (PPP) community kitchens pan-India, to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and starvation deaths prevalent in the country.

Community kitchens are institutions that provide cheap or free nutritious food as a service to the general public usually run by religious institutions or by the state. These are viewed as a complement to the existing schemes of the Government for combating hunger and malnutrition in India.

The Petitioners in the present case have cited various international conventions that India is a party to and all of which recognize the right of a person to a standard of living which is adequate in terms of health, food, clothing, housing and medical care. To name a few, the Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition, adopted by the World Food Conference under United Nations General Assembly provides that it is a fundamental responsibility of the governments to work together for higher food production and a more equitable and efficient distribution of food between countries and within countries. Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly states that the States Parties to the Covenant recognize the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.

They have also relied on various media reports, surveys and calculations, depicting the scarce access to food in India, malnutrition crisis, starvation deaths, aggravating infant mortality rates, diminishing life expectancy and likewise. It has been claimed that India has been constantly slipping down the Global Hunger Index and as per the Global Nutrition Report, 2018, the country holds almost a third of world's burden for stunting.

Aggrieved by this deteriorating state of health in the country and to mitigate deaths resulting from hunger, malnutrition and starvation, the plea has been filed.

The Petitioners have prayed the court to direct all States and Union Territories to formulate schemes to implement the concept of community kitchens to combat hunger, malnutrition & starvation and deaths resulting thereof and to direct the Central Government to create a national food grid for those persons beyond the scope of the Public Distribution Scheme. They have also prayed to direct National Legal Services Authority to formulate a scheme in order to further the provisions of Article 51A of the Constitution.

Various articles were cited discussing the operational and financial viability of operating these kitchens where payment of money is merely a token for procurement of food at subsidized rates. The raw material and cost of supplies for running the kitchen are met through the Municipal Corporation or another auxiliary of the state as well as benefit is taken from the existing schemes aimed at eradication of hunger. These institutions can also, unlike other government schemes, raise money from charity.

The petition has taken cue from pre-existing and successful run community kitchen services provided by certain state governments such as Amma Unavagam in Tamil Nadu, Annapurna Rasoi in Rajasthan, Indira Canteens in Karnataka, Aam Aadmi Canteen in Delhi, Anna Canteen in Andhra Pradesh, Mukhyamantri Dal Bhat Yojana in Jharkhand and Ahaar Centre in Odisha. These programs were established by these respective states with the same object of combating hunger and malnutrition crisis and providing nutritious food at subsidized rates to the lower socio-economic strata of the society. These are akin to "soup kitchens" of the U.S. and Europe to feed the poor by serving a limited menu of nutritious cooked food at below the market price.

Apart from the aforesaid, the Petitioners have relied on a plethora of grounds to support their cause. A few of them are enlisted below:

  1. Supreme Court has in a plethora of cases held that Right to Food comes within the purview of Right to Life and is a basic component to Right to Life. (State of Maharastra v. Chanderbhab, (1981) 3 SCC 387)
  2. Issues pertaining to malnutrition and starvation deaths, emerging from inadequate nutrition and hunger crisis breach the fundamental right to food and are violative of Articles 14, 21, 38, 39 and 47, 51(c) of the Constitution of India.
  3. As per statistics of the UN World Food Programme, WHO, Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition, UN Food and Agriculture, an estimated 7000 persons, including children die of hunger and malnutrition every day, and an estimated 25 Lakh persons, including children die of hunger, annually.
  4. The figures pertaining to nutritional status of the country provided by the National Heath Family Survey 4, 2016, are alarming. These statistics also have a fair bearing on the GDP of the country.
  5. According to the Food For Thought: Tackling Child Nutrition To Unlock Potential To Boost Prosperity Report, India loses an estimate between 0.8 per cent to 2.5 per cent of its GDP, equivalent to $15-46 billion, owing to malnutrition.
  6. Various schemes run by government to address the problem of hunger are futile in as much as there are eligible persons who have not been issued cards requisite to avail subsidies and benefits and then there is a segment of persons who are homeless and outside the grid of these schemes for the mere reasons that they do not possess a roof on their head.
  7. PDS system in India which accounts for distribution of wheat and rice, only, does not account for proteins and other components of a well-balanced diet, in turn leads to malnutrition.
  8. In the People's Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India., (2013) 2 SCC 688, commonly known as the "Right to Food Case", the Supreme Court directed all the States and UTs to introduce Mid-day meals for all children between the age of 6 to 14. This petition however sought implementation of a scheme providing cooked food to all persons.
  9. The present government schemes to eradicate hunger suffer on account of ineffective implementation and the proposed community kitchens, managed with funding from the State as well as funds from Corporate Social Responsibility under Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013 by a Public-Private Partnership, may be implemented to complement the existing schemes.
  10. The Supreme Court in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978 SC 597, stated that "Right to life enshrined under Article 21 means something more than animal instinct and includes the right to live with human dignity, it would include all aspects which would make life meaningful, complete and living." Similarly, in Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimala Totame, (1990) 1 SCC 520, it was held that "The right to life is guaranteed in any civilized society. That would take within its sweep the right to food."
  11. The Supreme Court in Ahemdabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan, 1997(1) SCC 121, reminded the Government of its duty towards the hungry and starving persons in the Country and further held that the nation state should promote socio-economic justice and fulfill the basic human needs.
  12. The abovementioned judgments substantiate Article 21 has been infringed as the persons 'Right to Food' and inadvertently, 'Right to Life' have been compromised with. Thus, judicial interference is vital in such a case.

Petitioners also clarified that the petition did not seek replacement of any of the existing schemes of the government with the concept of community kitchens and rather anticipate it as an added mechanism for provision of nutritious food. They also suggested that the model may be implemented block-wise, thereby affixing liability upon each Block Development Officer for accountability, effective implementation and ensuring widespread reach of the same.

The petition titled Anun Dhawan & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., was filed by AoR Mr. Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi and Advocates Ashima Mandla and Mandakini Singh on behalf of Social activists Anun Dhawan, Ishaan Dhawan and Kunjana Singh.

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