The Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned the Centre for not reporting any starvation death. The court said if it can be understood that there is no starvation death in the country. The apex court asked the government to furnish the latest data on starvation deaths and also frame a model scheme, for state governments to implement, in community kitchens to address hunger and malnutrition.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and Hima Kohli told Attorney General (AG) K.K. Venugopal, "Government of India should give us data on starvation deaths, latest information. Ask your officer to give us information".
The bench emphasized that the central government should frame a model scheme for community kitchens and leave it on state governments to implement it. The top court clarified that it does not mean that a universal scheme should be framed, as there is no straitjacket formula to address the issue, but at least government can frame a model scheme.
During the hearing, the bench remarked that several freebies are announced by political parties during polls and added that it does not want to comment during election time. The bench asked state governments to provide data on malnutrition, starvation deaths, and other related issues, within two weeks. The AG argued that no state government has reported starvation death, but pointed out a news report claiming a starvation death in Tamil Nadu, as doctors did not find food in the body of the 5-year-old child in the post mortem.
In the backdrop of the Centre already funding 131 welfare schemes, the AG cited scarcity of funds for the operationality of community kitchen schemes across the country, to address hunger and malnutrition. Venugopal said state governments will have to work the funds for the scheme and also carry out the logistics.
The Chief Justice told the AG to look into the problem as a human problem and engage with the central government to develop a model scheme for community kitchens. Citing AG's submission on starvation death reported by states, the bench further queried Venugopal, "can we afford to take that there is no starvation death in the country?"
The petitioner's counsel Ashima Mandla urged the top court to set up an expert committee in the matter to formulate a scheme for community kitchens across the country. AG submitted, "we do not dispute malnutrition. The issue is of funding".
The Chief Justice told the AG that the Centre can explore the possibility of providing additional food grains to the state governments and they can take care of logistics. It further added that the Centre can develop a model scheme after receiving data and suggestions from the states. The top court has scheduled the matter for further hearing after three weeks.
The top court was hearing a petition filed by Anun Dhawan and others, seeking subsidised canteens in all states and union territories to ensure food security, in the backdrop of the havoc wreaked by the pandemic.