SC Pulls up Government: Apathy Over Drought and Malnutrition

As the swollen figures of severe cases of malnutrition are making the headlines, the government’s apathy towards the grave issues like malnutrition and drought has been exposed in front of the apex judicial body. Having failed to follow the court orders to mitigate the impact of these issues, central and the state governments may have to face a contempt petition.

SC drought order
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While hearing a petition by Swaraj Abhiyan, the Supreme Court lambasted the government’s approach, and has asked the petitioner to file a contempt petition against those, who have disobeyed the court orders. It was brought to the court’s attention that the central and the 12 State Governments have failed to follow the court orders on multiple instances. According to a report, Prashant Bhushan, the counsel appearing for the petitioner NGO presented the evidence that its landmark judgment ordering universalisation of Public Distribution System (PDS) in drought-affected areas was not implemented by even a single state. The same was the fate of its order of supplementing the mid-day meal scheme with additional milk or egg.

During the half-a-day-long hearing on Thursday, October 6, a bench of Justices M.B. Lokur and N.V. Ramana repeatedly expressed their displeasure at the gross callousness of the State and central Governments, according to a report. Commenting the complete “non-serious attitude” of the governments, Justice Ramanna said, “We (the Supreme Court) pass orders. They (State Governments) don’t obey and you (Central Government) throw up your hands.”

As per a report, the petition which has been filed in last December also prays for appointment of a panel of three independent commissioners – headed by a retired judge, with a retired official with administrative experience of handling drought or other natural disasters, and an eminent rural activist as members – supported by the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare to oversee the implementation of the court's drought relief orders. The bench noted that they may be left with no option, but to appoint the court commissioners as per the petition.

The court’s order on supplying mid-day meal during summer vacation was openly defied by three States. Instead of appointing independent Food Commissions as mandated under the National Food Security Act, state governments have allegedly delegated the job to Consumer Redressal Forums, Women’s Commissions and even Child Protection Commissions.

The Additional Solicitor General, P.S.Narasimha, appearing for the Union government, said, admitted that these appointments qualify for violation of the law, however, as per a news report, he said, “It is wrong to say that Centre is not dealing with the drought-like situation. The process is going on as directed by the court. We are revising our drought manual as per suggestions and recommendations made by experts and other bodies.”

According to a news report, while the court had ordered immediate payment of compensation against delayed payment of MNREGA wages, only 1.5 of the total dues have been paid so far. It was informed to the bench that nearly half the states have run out of MNREGA funds, but the Centre has no plans of releasing the second installment of funds due in the first week October. There is no grievance redressal mechanism for crop loss compensation or farmers’ loan restructuring, although the court had directed that the policies in this regard be religiously followed and implemented.

It was alleged that the government has not shared any information about the status of crop loss compensation and farmers’ loan restructuring. As per the data recordings obtained from India Meteorological Department (IMD), by the end of the monsoon season, at least 149 districts of the country will be facing a drought. The bench asserted that it would not allow repetition of the mistakes made in the declaration of drought last year.

Referring to the recent news reports on the malnutrition deaths in the country, Justice Lokur said, “Children are dying of malnutrition. Does anyone care?”

Refraining from passing any order, the court asked Swaraj Abhiyan the petitioner to bring a contempt petition or an affidavit identifying the specific violations of the courts orders and the officials responsible for those violations. The court would consider issuing notices to all those guilty of disregard for the court’s order.

The court had passed four orders on May 11 and 13, 2016 directing universalisation of PDS, nutritional supplement of milk or eggs in mid-day meal, providing mid-day meal during summer vacation, release of adequate funds for MNREGA for payment of arrear wages and promotion of the scheme and religious implementation of all policies for relief under extant guidelines for crop loss compensation and farm loan restructuring, in response to the petition filed by Swaraj Abhiyan.



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