People's Union for Civil Liberties

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Food must reach the starving, not rot: S.C.

August, 2001
The Hindu

By J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI, AUG. 20. Expressing serious concern over the starvation deaths in some States, the Supreme Court today observed that it was the primary responsibility of the Central and State Governments to ensure that the foodgrains overflowing in FCI godowns reached the starving people and not wasted by being dumped in the sea or eaten by rats.

A three-judge Bench, comprising Mr. Justice B.N. Kirpal, Mr. Justice Santosh Hegde and Mr. Justice Brijesh Kumar, made this observation during the resumed hearing on a petition filed by the People&;s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) bringing to the court&;s notice reports on incidents of starvation deaths though the Food Corporation of India godowns had stocks of over 50 million tonnes of foodgrains.

The Bench, which had earlier ordered notice to the Centre and six States, said the court&;s anxiety was that the poor, destitute and weaker sections of society should not suffer from hunger and die from starvation. Mere schemes without implementation were of no use and what was important was that food should reach the needy, the Bench said.

It adjourned the hearing till September 3 for passing interim directions.

Govt. affidavit soon

PTI, UNI report:

The Attorney-General, Mr. Soli J. Sorabjee, contended that as far as interim directions needed to address the issues were concerned, the Centre would file an affidavit soon.

At one point, the Bench observed that ``even if the foodgrains had to be given free, it should be done as no person should be deprived of food merely because he had no money.&;&;

Mr. Cecil Gonsalves, counsel for the petitioner, cited three Centrally-sponsored schemes - the Employment Assurance Scheme, the Mid-day Meal Scheme and the Integrated Child Development Scheme and said the mid-day meal scheme had attracted a large number of children from the weaker sections to schools. During the hearing on July 23, the court asked Orissa, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh to take immediate steps to make closed PDS shops functional.

Mr. Sorabjee termed it a ``horrendous state of affairs&;&; adding there was something radically wrong with the system and sought time from the court for formulation of a mechanism to provide food to the destitute.

The petitioner raised three basic questions: ``Does the right to life mean that people who are starving and who are too poor to buy foodgrains ought to be given foodgrains free of cost by the state from the surplus stock lying with the state particularly when it is reported that a large part of it is lying unused and rotting?&;&;

``Does not the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution include the right to food? Does not the right to food, which has been upheld by the apex court, imply that the state has a duty to provide food especially in the situations of drought to people who are drought-affected and are not in a position to purchase food?&;&;

The court was informed about the ineffective implementation of the food-for-work scheme. It was alleged that hardly 10 per cent of the total number of those who approached for work under the scheme, were allowed to work. Under the scheme, 50 per cent of wages were paid in foodgrains and the remaining in cash.

Mr. Justice Hegde said in Orissa, the FCI godowns had more grain stocks than actually required by the State and yet people were dying of starvation.

On behalf of the FCI, it was contended that it had no powers to release foodgrains to States on its own. Foodgrains were released to the States on the basis of requisitions made by them after the allotment of foodgrains quota to them by the Centre.

Nevertheless the court expressed unhappiness over the bureaucratic functioning of the FCI and the inaction of both the Central and State Governments to come to the rescue of the starving people.

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