A Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and M.R. Shah has directed all states and union territories (UT) to take a decision over reopening of the Anganwadi Centres outside the containment zones that were shut due to the lockdown by the end of January.
The Court has also directed all states and UTs to ensure that nutritional standards as provided in Schedule II of National Food Security Act, 2013 is fulfilled by providing nutritional support to pregnant women, lactating mothers and children who suffer from malnutrition.
The Court, however, held that the decision of not opening Anganwadi Centres can only be taken after proper consultation with the State Disaster Management Authority in any area situated outside the containment zones. It clarified that no Anganwadi Centres situated inside the containment zones shall be opened.
Importantly, the court also ordered the states and UTs to issue appropriate orders regarding monitoring and supervision of Anganwadi Centres so that the benefits reach the beneficiaries and also a Complaint Redressal Mechanism be put in place in each district.
The top court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation questioning the closure of the Anganwadi Centres through which supplementary nutrition to pregnant women, lactating mothers, adolescent girls and children upto the age of 6 years is provided.
The Bench said that the Government of India was under constitutional obligation to preserve human life and ensure good health of its citizens. It held, “It is now statutory obligation of the Centre and the States to provide for nutritional support to the pregnant women and lactating mothers, nutritional support to children and to take steps to identify and provide meals for children who suffer from malnutrition.”
Noting the importance of physical and mental health which is also endorsed by International Covenants, the court said, “Inadequate supply of nutritious food to the citizens, more particularly to the children and the women shall affect their health. Therefore, the same shall be in violation of their fundamental right to health/right to live with dignity guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
Referring to the statutory machinery of the National Food Security Act, 2013 and Schedule II of the Act which provides for nutritional standards for children in the age group of 6 months to 6 years, pregnant women and lactating mothers, the court observed,
“Children are the next generation and therefore unless and until the children and the women have the nutritious food, it will affect the next generation and ultimately the country as a whole.…The Centre as well as States are statutorily obliged to implement statutory obligation as imposed under Sections 4,5 and 6 of the Act, 2013. The nutritional support is required to be of the nutritional standards which have already been laid down to Schedule II of the Act, 2013 and all States/UTs are obliged to implement such Scheme and have to comply with Schedule II.”
The judgment may be read here: