Drought; Swaraj Abhiyan Vs. Union of India [Supreme Court of India, 13-05-2016]

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION

(Madan B. Lokur) and (N.V. Ramana) JJ.

May 13, 2016

WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 857 OF 2015

Swaraj Abhiyan – (II)

.…Petitioner

versus

Union of India & Ors. .…Respondents J U D G M E N T

Madan B. Lokur, J.

1. In our judgment dated 11th May, 2016 we had adverted to the drought or the drought-like conditions prevailing in several parts of our country and had issued certain directions for compliance. In this judgment, we will deal with the prayer made by the petitioner Swaraj Abhiyan relating to the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (for short ‘the NFS Act’).

Implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013

2. It is submitted by the petitioner that it is necessary to ensure food security to the persons affected by the drought. In this regard, the petitioner made four suggestions and they are:-

(i) All households should be provided with 5 kg food grains per person per month irrespective of whether or not they fall in the category of priority households as defined in Section 2(14) of the NFS Act read with Section 10 thereof. The provision for food grains should be in addition to and not in derogation of any other entitlement in any other government scheme.

(ii) Households that do not have a ration card or family members left out of existing ration cards should be issued special and temporary coupons on production of an appropriate identity card or any other proof of residence.

(iii) Each household affected by the drought should be provided 2 kg of dal (lentil) per month at Rs. 30 per kg and one litre of edible oil per month at Rs. 25 per litre through the Public Distribution System. In this regard, reference was made to a similar scheme which is said to be working quite well in Tamil Nadu.

(iv) Children affected by the drought should be provided one egg or 200 gms of milk per day (6 days a week) under the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. In addition to this, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme should continue during the summer vacation period in schools so that children are not deprived of their meals, including eggs or milk, as the case may be.

3. The Union of India has explained in its response that in terms of Section 3 of the NFS Act the monthly entitlement of food grains is 5 kg per person for eligible households under ‘priority’ category and 35 per kg per family under the Antyodaya Anna Yojna for rice, wheat and coarse grains. Coverage under the NFS Act has been delinked from poverty estimates and is substantially above the percentage of population living below the poverty line. It is submitted that coverage under the NFS Act has to be determined by each State and the criteria for identification of priority households and their actual identification is the responsibility of the State Government. It is further stated that the State Government is expected to digitize the beneficiary database and also set up a ‘grievance redressal mechanism’.

4. For implementation of the NFS Act, the State Government is required to complete all preparatory steps for which guidelines have been issued by the Government of India. In this context, it is stated that the implementation of the NFS Act has started in 32 States and Union Territories and as far as Gujarat is concerned it will implement the NFS Act from 1st April 2016. During the course of hearing, we were informed that thankfully Gujarat is now implementing the NFS Act.

5. It is also stated that since drought is a temporary phenomenon, additional food grains are made available on request basis from the State Government. It is further stated that for 2015-16, only Maharashtra made a request for additional food grain allocation for drought affected people and the Government of India made available 1.63 lakh tons of rice and 2.44 lakh tons of wheat, as requested.

6. With regard to the supply of dal/lentil and edible oils, it is stated by the Union of India that under the NFS Act there is no provision to supply these items. In the absence of sufficient domestic availability of these items, their supply under the Public Distribution System is difficult to ensure and there are fiscal constraints on stretching the food subsidy bill by including the supply of dal/lentil and edible oils. However, the State Governments are at liberty to distribute additional items out of their own resources. In fact, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Karnataka and Telangana are distributing dal/lentil or edible oils to sections of society while Chhattisgarh is distributing chana (gram) in scheduled areas.

7. With regard to the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, it is stated by the Union of India that there is no special provision for the supply of eggs or milk but there is a requirement of minimum calorific and nutritional contents. These are as follows:-

Components Primary Upper Primary
Calories 450 Cal 700 Cal
Protein 12 gm 20 gm
Micronutrients Adequate quantities of micronutrients like Iron, Folic Acid, Vitamin A etc.

 8. It is further stated by the Union of India that the menu under the Mid-Day Meal Scheme is locally decided and of the 12 States that we are concerned with, only 5 States that is Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Telangana provide either eggs or milk under the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. According to Swaraj Abhiyan, additional or different items like chana (for example) is provided by 4 other States, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. Admittedly, neither eggs nor milk nor any other additional item is provided by 3 States, that is, Bihar, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

9. With regard to continuing the Mid-Day Meal Scheme during the summer vacations in the drought affected areas, the Union of India says that only 3 of the States that we are concerned with, that is, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh made such a proposal during 2015-16 and that was sanctioned by the Performance Appraisal Board. As far as 2016-17 is concerned, only Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have made a request and that is under consideration by the Performance Appraisal Board.

10. The monitoring and implementation of the NFS Act is really the duty and responsibility of the State Food Commission under Section 16 of the NFS Act. We are told that not every State has established such a Commission making it difficult for any corrective or remedial measures in respect of the review and implementation of the NFS Act. It is high time that the machinery under the NFS Act is put in place by all concerned otherwise the enactment of social justice legislations will have no meaning at all.