NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday favoured setting up of community kitchens, saying the country needs this kind of system to tackle the problem of hunger.
A bench, headed by Justice N V Ramana, issued notices to the Centre and all states and sought their responses on the proposal for setting up of community kitchens.
The court was hearing a PIL seeking directions to all the states and union territories (UTs) to formulate a scheme for community kitchens to combat hunger and malnutrition.
The plea claimed that many children, under the age of five, die every day due to hunger and malnutrition and this condition was violative of various fundamental rights, including the right to food and life of citizens.
The PIL, filed by social activists Anun Dhawan, Ishann Dhawan and Kunjana Singh, has also sought a direction to the Centre for creating a national food grid for people falling outside the purview of the public distribution scheme.
It also sought issuance of an order to the National Legal Services Authority (NLSA) for formulating a scheme to mitigate hunger-related deaths.
The plea referred to the state-funded community kitchens being run in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Jharkhand and Delhi that serve meals at subsidised rates in hygienic conditions.
The plea also referred to the concepts of soup kitchen, meal centre, food kitchen or community kitchen, in other countries, where food is offered to the hungry usually for free or sometimes at below-market price.
The petition, filed through advocates Ashima Mandla and Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi, said that the Centre and its various ministries have initiated and implemented various schemes to combat hunger, malnutrition and the resulting starvation, although in reality, effective implementation of the schemes was "unclear and fairly limited".
"In the interest of justice and for entitlement of nutritious food, which has been held as a basic fundamental and human right, in both national and international law, alike, the establishment of community kitchens maybe directed as an added mechanism for provision of nutritious food with the intent of holistically combating eradication of hunger, malnutrition and starvation in the country, and diseases, illnesses and deaths resulting thereof," it said.
The statistics on starvation deaths in the country are unavailable and starvation as the cause of death can only be ascertained upon autopsy after death, the plea said, adding that global agencies report that more than three lakh children die every year in India because of hunger, whereas 38 per cent below the age of five are stunted.
"Implementation of community kitchens funded by state or in association with corporate social responsibility by a public-private partnership (PPP), may be implemented to complement the existing schemes.
"Article 21 embarks that right to life does not mean mere existence, but life with dignity and on the other hand the Centre and state governments as well as ministries in the present grim scenario have failed to fulfil their obligations for effectively providing food security in the country," the plea said.
It said that a 2010 report by World Food Programme on the state of food insecurity in India indicates that increasing urban inequality, significant under-investment in urban health and nutrition infrastructure, workforce in casual or contract employment or even less remunerative self-employment, growth of slums and slum population lacking in most basic health and hygiene infrastructure has resulted in a permanent food and nutrition emergency.