NEW DELHI: Chafing at the lack of progress in framing a uniform scheme to ensure cooked food for the hungry and destitute across the states, the Supreme Court on Tuesday pilloried the Centre for filing a deficient affidavit, that too by a junior officer, before threatening to “throw out the affidavit” for the government’s lack of respect to the highest court.
The SC’s earnest endeavour to make the Centre frame a uniform policy and the latter not keeping its solemn promise to work towards it irked a bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices A S Bopanna and Hima Kohli, which said, “You had promised to frame a uniform policy. There is not a word about it in the affidavit. Your secretary is so arrogant that he undermines the highest court by asking an undersecretary to file the affidavit. This cannot go on.”
Such was the intensity of questioning from the CJI and Justice Kohli that additional solicitor general Madhvi Divan had to repeatedly plead for permission to complete an argument on the difficulties faced by the Centre in framing a uniform scheme given the diversity of conditions in states, many of which are already implementing a scheme for highly subsidised cooked food for citizens. “We cannot thrust a scheme on community kitchens in the states,” she said.
As the ASG was finding it difficult to extricate the Centre from the situation, attorney general K K Venugopal intervened to calm frayed nerves, saying a uniform community kitchen scheme could be framed but only if the states agreed since the Constitution mandates poverty alleviation schemes and public distribution system implementation to the panchayati raj mechanism under the states.
He said the country has 6.63 lakh villages and 2.55 lakh panchayats. “We will deal with the matter and come out with a concrete scheme after a thorough consultation with the states. The scheme involves taking care of huge logistics — foodgrains have to be transported to panchayats, storage space has to be created and kitchens have to be set up. We can come forward with a scheme while not violating the constitutional mandate about the three-tier governance system.”
The CJI-led bench said, “If you (the governments) want to take care of hunger, no Constitution or law will negate or impede it. Don’t think that we want linking community kitchens with the schemes to provide nourishment to children. We are only concerned with hunger. We will grant you three weeks to call a meeting of all states and devise a uniform scheme. If you face objections or difficulties, bring it to our notice and we will sort it out through judicial orders.”
The AG said that many states have opened community kitchens and provide food to all at highly subsidised rates. “We cannot do that. We will ensure that the community kitchens cater to only the marginalised sections and those below the poverty line.”
The bench clarified that it was not insisting on any particular kind of scheme by the Centre. “What we want is that the scheme should provide succour to those hungry and those who are unable to make ends meet even once a day.” The SC posted the matter for further hearing after three weeks.