A three judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Subhash Reddy and Justice M.R. Shah directed the Union of India, States and Union Territories to reopen the anganwadi centres situated outside the containment zones, which were closed due to pandemic, to provide nutritional support to children, pregnant women and lactating mothers in accordance with the statutory requirements of National Food Security Act, 2013.
The court however directed that the decision of not opening the anganwadi centres can only be taken after proper consultation of with State Disaster Management Authority in any area situated outside the containment zones. The court clarified that no anganwadi centres situated inside the containment zones shall be opened.
The Court also directed the respondents to create a complaint redressal mechanism in each district to ensure the compliance of the Act.
BACKGROUND OF THE PETITION
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by Dipika Jagatram Sahani for seeking directions on the Union of India, States and Union Territories to respond on the closure of anganwadi centres across the country in the wake of pandemic.
According to the petitioner, the anganwadi community system supplements nutrition to children upto 6 years, pregnant women, lactating mothers and adolescent girls. This system was fulfilling the State objective of making a holistic environment of providing nutritional support to such children and women.
Being aggrieved on the closure, the petitioner had therefore prayed for the following:
- That the Union of India, States and UTs be directed to reopen all anganwadi centre services in accordance with the provisions of National Food Security Act, 2013.
- That the respondents shall provide hot cooked meals and take home rations as provided under the Act as well as The Supplementary Nutrition (under the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme) Rules, 2020 in the form of packaged food.
- That the respondents should conduct a growth monitoring of children to document growth in the wake of the after effects of the pandemic more particularly main nourishment among children and anemia in girl children and initiate corrective steps.
- Any other recommendations under Right to Food Campaign.
OBSERVATIONS OF THE BENCH
The bench observed that Art. 47 of the Constitution of India casts a responsibility on the States to regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties. The Court also relied on the landmark judgment of PUCL v. Union of India (2001) wherein the Court had issued various directions for protection of right to food of the poor and the underprivileged sections including children and women.
The Court observed the statutory machinery of the National Food Security Act, 2013 and held that Anganwadi Centres which are manned by Anganwadi workers/helpers are entrusted with implementation of a large number of welfare schemes initiated by the Central Government as well as by the State Governments.
The bench while analyzing Schedule II of the Act which provides for nutritional standards for children in the age group of 6 months to 6 years, pregnant women and lactating mothers, held that:
"Children are the next generation and therefore unless and until the children and the women have the nutritious food, it will affect the next generation and ultimately the country as a whole. No one can doubt that children are the future of our country and if there is some stinginess in providing them with adequate nutrition, the country as a whole is deprived in future of taking the benefit of their potential."
The bench held that it is a statutory obligation of the Centre and the States to provide for nutritional support to the pregnant women and lactating mothers, nutritional support to children and to take steps to identify and provide meals for children who suffer from malnutrition.
"The Centre as well as States are statutorily obliged to implement statutory obligation as imposed under Sections 4,5 and 6 of the Act, 2013. The nutritional support is required to be of the nutritional standards which have already been laid down to Schedule II of the Act, 2013 and all States/UTs are obliged to implement such Scheme and have to comply with Schedule II." The bench held.
Directions issued by the Court
- Government of India, Ministry of Women and Child Development, all States/Union Territories who have not yet opened Anganwadi Centres shall take a decision to open Anganwadi Centres on or before 31.01.2021 situated outside the containment zone.
- The decision for not opening Anganwadi Centres in any State/Union Territories shall be taken only after the State Disaster Management Authority of the State direct for not opening of Anganwadi Centres in State situated outside containment zone.
- Anganwadi Centres situated in the containment zone shall not be opened till the containment continues.
- All States/Union Territories shall ensure that nutritional standards as provided in Schedule II of National Food Security Act, 2013 by providing nutritional support to pregnant women, lactating mothers, nutritional support to children who suffer from malnutrition.
- All the States/Union Territories shall issue necessary orders regarding monitoring and supervision of Anganwadi Centres to ensure that the benefit reaches to the beneficiaries and a Complaint Redressal Mechanism be put in place in each district.
Case Name: Dipika Hagatram Sahant v. Union of India & Ors. WP CIVIL No. 1039 of 2020
Judgment dated: 13.01.2021