Among the many battles India is fighting today, poverty, malnutrition, and hunger are perhaps its oldest foes. While schemes and policies have been in place to play their parts, the crisis continues to persist.
Recognizing the urgent need to formulate solutions, the Supreme Court favoured a petition seeking an order for setting up of community kitchens across the country and creating a national food grid to make food available for everybody.
The court issued suo moto notice to States and Union Territories and sought their replies. Attorney General KK Venugopal, representing the Centre, also agreed with the need to eradicate hunger with the proposed scheme. The matter will be heard next on November 26.
Activists Anun Dhawan, Ishann Dhawan and Kunjana Singh, represented by advocates Ashima Mandla, Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi and Mandakini Singh, had filed the Public Interest Litigation; highlighting the blatant violation of the right to food, and consequently, the right to life and dignity of the people dying of hunger.
Why Community Kitchens?
The petition quotes some glaring numbers from the National Health Survey (NHS) 2017 and the 2015-2016 Statistics composed by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), along with various other official sources.
The State and Central governments have taken multiple efforts to eradicate hunger and starvation, especially with schemes such as the Public Distribution System (PDS), Antyodaya Anna Yojana, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme and the Integrate Child Development Services; and shifting the food security approach from welfare to a rights-based approach with the National Food Security Act.
While the petitioners acknowledge these measures, the disturbing malnutrition numbers urge for more steps to complement these schemes.
State-run community kitchens provide nutritious cooked food at extremely subsidized prices (or for free) to the lower socio-economic strata of the society. They are often cooperatively managed by Self Help Groups (SHGs). The plea also mentions the option of a Public-Private Partnership model funded as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
The petition“The model of community kitchens may solve a dual purpose of contributing towards decline and eradication of malnutrition and hunger as well as providing for employment to persons, required for running the said kitchens.”
The concept has already been adopted by some Indian states such as Tamil Nadu (Amma Unavagam), Rajasthan (Annapurna Rasoi), Karnataka (Indira Canteens), Delhi (Aam Aadmi Canteen), Andhra Pradesh (Anna Canteen), Jharkhand (Mukhyamantri Dal Bhat) and Odisha (Ahaar Centre).
The report mentions a case study of these kitchens in Tamil Nadu, which concluded that the initiative has proven to be efficient. This is because it has enabled to take food directly to the end beneficiaries — the urban poor — who were the main targets.
The petition“The success of the scheme lies not only in the low prices but also due to the cooperative management of all the outlets by the SHGs, which has been able to run the canteens based on democratic norms, mutual reciprocity and shared responsibilities of their job responsibilities.”
Apart from community kitchens, the petitioners also ask for the creation of a national grid for persons outside the scope of PDS. “For reasons not delved into by the Petitioners in this instant Petition, there are eligible persons who have not been issued cards requisite to avail subsidies and benefits; and then there is a segment of persons who are homeless and could be outside the grid of these schemes for the mere reasons that they do not possess a roof on their head and hence no place of residence”
Speaking to FIT, advocate Ashima Mandla also brought up the concern of state-wise budgetary allocation, which may affect the running of state-run kitchens across the country. “There are reports that perhaps Jharkhand is not performing so well with the scheme — could be because of the uneven budget.” Therefore, alternative models of funding mentioned in the petition could be considered too.
Ashima Mandla“Setting up of the community kitchens and a national grid will also check food wastage. The Ministry of Public Distribution says that we have so much grain that it needs to be exported. And on the other hand, there is not enough food for our own citizens.”
With the Supreme Court’s positive response, she is hoping that governments will take up this endeavor and ensure that no person in this country is forced to spend another day without food.
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