SC Directs Center to Frame Community Kitchen Policy, Says No One Should Die of Hunger
The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the union government three weeks to draft a pan-India community kitchen policy, Live Law reported. This follows a court order from 27th October, directing the same after the court had sought inputs from state governments. Notably, the court observed that, in a welfare state, nobody should die of hunger and that the state was constitutionally mandated to ensure thus.
Various state governments have their own community kitchen policies. But the Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, passed the order in response to a petition seeking a nationwide policy on the same. The bench expressed dissatisfaction with the center’s affidavit, which provided details about existing measures but no new plans for a scheme.
“This affidavit does not indicate anywhere that you are considering framing a scheme. You are extracting information. It does not say what fund you have collected and what you are doing etc. We wanted a uniform model from the Centre,” the bench noted.
The justices also pulled up the government for its lax attitude towards ensuring food security. “This is the first principle: Every welfare state’s first responsibility is to provide food to people dying due to hunger,” they stated.
The advocate for the petitioner noted that 69% of children under the age of five died due to malnutrition and thereby urged that the process of setting up community kitchens be expedited. The petition also noted that hunger was a violation of people’s fundamental rights, such as the right to food and right to life.
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Food, unlike other commodities, is something nobody can live without — and ensuring that nobody starves due to an inability to afford it remains one of the most important constitutional duties of the state. This is especially true for a country where hunger still remains a dire social problem. The country’s recent slip in the Global Hunger Index makes this directive especially imperative now.
The idea at the heart of community kitchens is food security for the marginalized and the poor. Currently, Tamil Nadu, Kerala Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Delhi, and Uttarakhand have state-funded community kitchen programmes that offer meals at subsidized rates.
In Tamil Nadu, “Amma Canteens” are state-run kitchens that provide nutritious meals at low prices — Rs 1 per idli, for instance. Experts note that the Tamil Nadu model seems to be the most extensive effort in India so far. Kerala also has a state community kitchen programme that was successful in some districts.
Efforts seem to be sporadic in other states, but it’s not always for a lack of trying. In Odisha, an emergency feeding programme had to be discontinued after the center reportedly stopped providing subsidized rice to the state in 2015. This impacted over two lakh beneficiaries, specifically the elderly and disabled.
But the pandemic saw a revival of community kitchen initiatives, and showed how these could save lives. Women’s self-help groups played a pivotal role in running and distributing clean, nutritious food to those in need during the lockdown, ensuring that migrant workers trapped in a particular place had access to basic, life-saving resources like clean food and water.
But the lack of a robust public policy means that many such initiatives are citizen-led, which in turn means that resources to sustain these measures are limited. While many existing schemes are state government schemes, the union government has not yet incorporated the idea into its food security policy. For instance, an important community kitchen provision was dropped from the National Food Security Bill.
The Supreme Court’s comments about a welfare state’s duty in preventing starvation deaths is thus significant. It comes at a time when the government is pushing an unprecedented drive towards privatization, ensuring that many public goods are no longer provided as a matter of citizens’ rights and entitlements. The idea that a community kitchen policy is necessary lends weight to the argument that subsidizing essential resources is important to uphold the fundamental right to life.