SC asks six states to end starvation amidst plenty
THE TIMES OF INDIA NEWS SERVICE
NEW DELHI: Shocked at the increasing number of starvation deaths despite overflowing Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns across the country, the Supreme Court on Monday asked six drought-prone states to reopen closed public distribution shops withina week.
The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has alleged starvation deaths in Orissa, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
While the apex court was concerned at the plight of starving people, attorney general Soli Sorabjee termed it as a ``horrendous state of affairs'' and said there was something ``radically wrong with the system''.
The court said the government priority, in compliance with the Famine Code, should be to provide food to the aged, infirm, disabled, destitute, and pregnant and lactating women who are in danger of starvation.
A Bench comprising Justice B N Kirpal and Justice K G Balakrishnan said that it was ``a situation of plenty wherein the officialdom in the country created the scarcity of food''. The Bench further observed: ``There is plenty of food, but distribution of it among the poor is absent.''
``Devise a scheme where no person goes hungry when the granaries are full and lots being wasted due to non-availability of storage space,'' the Bench told the government. Sorabjee said to devise such a scheme would require a coordinated effort between the states and the Centre and sought two weeks' time. The court granted his plea and posted the matter for further hearing on August 20. The court also sought affidavits from the six states, the Centre and the FCI detailing their response to meet the unprecedented situation of ``scarcity among plenty''.
PUCL counsel Colin Gonsalves and Aparna Bhat said it was ``tragic that over 50 million tonnes of foodgrain, as against the required buffer stock of 17 million tonnes, were lying in various godowns of FCI across the country but the non-enforcement of the Famine Code had resulted in starvation deaths.''
PUCL raised three questions relating to the right to food. ``Does the right to life mean that people who are starving and who are too poor to buy food grains ought to be given food grain free of cost by the state from the surplus stock lying with the state, particularly when it is reported that a large part of it is lying unused and rotting?'' it asked. ``Does not the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution include the right to food?
``Does not the right of food, which has been upheld by the apex court, imply that the state has a duty to provide food, especially in situations of drought, to people who are drought-affected and are not in a position to purchase food?'' PUCL asked.