The Supreme Court Wednesday asked the Centre to come out with some policy decisions concerning the implementation of the Community Kitchen Scheme by taking into consideration other similar schemes which are in operation in different states.
The Supreme Court also took note of incidents of alleged hunger deaths and malnutrition of children in some states and asked them to file short replies by identifying the districts/talukas/villages where such incidents have taken place or taking place.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said there is a need to coordinate with the state governments/Union territories and their opinion should also be taken into consideration by the Centre before finalisation of the Community Kitchen Scheme.
"We are of the considered view that until and unless the state governments are involved with regard to implementation of the scheme, it would be difficult to implement the same.
"Under the circumstances, it would be appropriate that the Union of India should come out with some policy decision with regard to implementation of the Community Kitchen Scheme by taking into consideration the other similar schemes relating to the community kitchen which are already in operation in different states," the bench said.
The Supreme Court asked the counsel appearing for the Delhi government and the Union Territory of Ladakh to file their respective counter-affidavits within two weeks from today, without fail.
Additional Solicitor General Madhvi Divan, appearing for the Centre, told the bench that the issues which are raised in this petition about creating community kitchens to take care of hunger deaths or malnutrition of children are under active consideration of the Union of India and they are awaiting expert reports on the subject.
The bench also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli directed the Centre to interact with the concerned stakeholders as well as for finalisation of the probable date of holding a meeting with the state governments/Union territories on the subject.
The bench also directed Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Bihar to file short replies on the incidents of alleged hunger deaths and malnutrition of children.
"Counsel appearing for the states of UP, MP, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Bihar are directed to file their respective short replies about the aforesaid issues and identify the districts/talukas/villages where these deaths/malnutrition have/are taking place, on the next date of hearing without fail," the bench said.
It also granted two weeks to Manipur to deposit the costs imposed by it and made it clear that no further extension of time would be granted for the said purpose.
"Counsel appearing for all those states which have not so far deposited costs pursuant to order of this court are granted four weeks from today for the said purpose. The registry is directed to invest the costs deposited by the states in an interest-earning fixed deposit receipts on a short term basis in any nationalized bank with auto-renewal facility which gives more interest," the bench said while posting the matter for next hearing on November 16.
The Supreme Court, on February 17 last year, had imposed an additional cost of Rs 5 lakh each on six states for not complying with its directions to file their affidavits on the PIL, which sought formulation of the scheme to set up community kitchens for the poor.
The additional cost of Rs 5 lakh each was imposed on Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Goa, and Delhi.
Advocate Ashima Mandla, appearing for the PIL petitioners, was asked by the bench to prepare a chart of all the states who have filed their replies to the PIL.
She had said 69 per cent of children under the age of five have lost their lives due to malnutrition and it is high time that states take steps to set up community kitchens.
The Supreme Court had on October 18, 2019, favoured setting up of community kitchens, saying the country needs this kind of a system to tackle the problem of hunger.
It had issued notices to the Centre and all states asking for their responses on a PIL seeking directions to all the states and Union territories (UTs) to formulate a scheme for community kitchens to combat hunger and malnutrition.
The plea had claimed that many children under the age of five die every day due to hunger and malnutrition and this condition was violative of various fundamental rights, including the right to food and the life of citizens.
The PIL, filed by social activists Anun Dhawan, Ishann Dhawan, and Kunjana Singh, had also sought a direction to the Centre for creating a national food grid for people falling outside the purview of the public distribution scheme.
It had also sought the issuance of an order to the National Legal Services Authority (NLSA) for formulating a scheme to mitigate hunger-related deaths.
The plea referred to the state-funded community kitchens being run in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Jharkhand, and Delhi that serve meals at subsidised rates in hygienic conditions.
The plea also referred to the concepts of the soup kitchen, meal centre, food kitchen, or community kitchen in other countries where food is offered to the hungry usually for free or sometimes at below-market price rates.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)