Karnataka gov’t delays malnutrition alleviation report, HC warns of contempt proceedings

The Karnataka state government was jolted out of its reverie when the High Court rebuked it for its failure to submit a report on steps taken to alleviate rampant malnutrition in the state. The state government had failed to file the report detailing compliance with recommendations of a committee constituted by the HC despite multiple deadline extensions.
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In 2011, the Karnataka High Court had taken up a suomotu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) after receiving a letter from B L Patil of Vimochana Samsthe, Belagavi district. In the letter, Patil had expressed concerns over the death of children in Raichur district and other parts of North Karnataka. In April 2012, the High Court had constituted the nine-member Committee headed by Justice NK Patil.

The committee placed its report on August 23, 2013, with 112 wide-ranging recommendations, such as identification, medical assessment and treatment of children covered under Integrated Child Development Scheme(ICDS) as well as the provision of basic infrastructure to anganwadis.Later, the state government had accepted 87 recommendations, although it has allegedly failed to implement the recommendations even after six years!

On September 16, 2019, the Court gave directions to the state government to file the report by October 21.When the government sought time again, the court revised the deadline to November 18. But when the Karnataka government failed to meet even this deadline and asked for another extention, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Pradeep Singh Yerur took exception to this, warned them that the court will initiate a contempt case if the compliance report is not submitted before November 20. It observed that the government should take up the Committee recommendations on an emergency basis and take serious steps to control the death of children due to malnutrition.

The Justice NK Patil Committee Report may be read here.

A study on child malnutrition in Karnataka noted, “The lack of commitment to implement the recommendations of a committee headed by a sitting High Court judge, after promising to do so in court, only shows the lackadaisical attitude the government has towards curbing malnutrition. The situation has been aggravated by increasing privatisation of many of the services provided by the State.”

Malnourishmentand India

According to WHO, malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excessesor imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. It includes undernutrition like wasting(low weight-for-height) or stunting (low height-for-age), as well as micronutrient-related malnutrition.

As per the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS):

  • 35.7 per cent of children under the age of five years are underweight
  • 38.4 per cent are stunted
  • 21% are wasted

Raichur district in Karnataka, in particular, reported that 41.2% children under 5 years were underweight. In Karnataka, 44.8% of pregnant women were found to be anemic.

A 2018 report by the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, which compiled country-wide data, shows that 26% of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) beneficiaries in the state are malnourished. The ICDS was reported to be was serving about 82 million children younger than 6 years and over 19 million pregnant women and lactating mothers in 2016.

The National Human Rights Commission has notedthe Right to Food to be a guaranteed Fundamental Right under the Indian Constitution, reading Article 21 with Articles 39(a) and 47. Article 39(a) directs the State to secure the right to an adequate means of livelihood for its citizens, while Article 47 spells out the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people as a primary responsibility.

In PUCL v. Union of India, better known as the Right to Food case, the apex Court directed appointment of Commissioners to monitor the execution of the various food-related welfare schemes framed by the Government of India.


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