Q: What is that motivated you to file this petition in the Supreme Court of India?
A: Our Constitution under Article 21 embodies ‘Right to Food’ as a fundamental right, and food is rudimental to the survival of any person. But this right cannot merely exist on paper. In our country, at every nook and corner, one can witness people, regardless of their age, who do not have the privilege of 2 square meals a day. I am using the word privilege because it’s ironic as food is a necessity and not a privilege. Upon researching, further on the issue, I came across the model of state-run community kitchens established by some of our States, akin to the concept of soup kitchens existing in countries such as United States, United Kingdom, Canada to name a few. The proposed model was filed by the way of the Public Interest Litigation as the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India & Ors had directed for pan-India implementation of the scheme of mid-day meal then running in certain States, such as Tamil Nadu, hence in the present case, we are praying for similar relief.
Q: Is this the first time you have filed a PIL and why this one?
A: I personally feel that Public Interest Litigations is an effective platform for raising social issues of public importance for the betterment of the society at large, especially for the strata of society who may not possess the means to fight for their rights. From the beginning of my career, I have been engaged in various Public Interest Litigations. I am presently engaged in matters seeking protective & preventive gears for Safai Karamcharis and seeking criminal action against erring officials, contractors and agencies under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code in cases wherein death of such scavengers has resulted; the former is sub-judice before the High Court of Delhi and the latter before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Q: What was the approach of the court to the equation of right to food, as you are aware Justice Ramana, before whom this case was listed, has given a judgment in Swaraj Abhayan mandating all state to appoint Food Commissioners?
A: The Hon’ble Bench was pleased to issue a notice to the Respondents mentioned in the petition and furthermore issued a suo-moto notice to all States and Union Territories as the Bench remarked that the Hon’ble Supreme Court favoured a scheme of this kind in the prevailing circumstances.
Q: Do you think it is the failure of the States to discharge their duties under the Food Security Act that led to the court intervening in your matter?
A: As we have pled before the Hon’ble Court that in-spite of a handsome budgetary allocation granted to various Government-run schemes proposed and implemented with the objective of combating hunger, malnutrition and starvation, our country still has approximately 4500 children subjected to hunger-related deaths every day and with 19 crore persons of the country go to sleep on an empty stomach every day and a similar figure is malnourished, paving way the need for newer policy solutions. The idea behind the petition is to further the Zero Hunger Challenge of the United Nations to achieve by 2030 and Malnutrition Free India by 2022.
Q: What about the issue of payment for the food? Will there be qualifying criteria for availing of the food at the canteen?
A: In the petition, we have suggested that the existing scheme of the community kitchens wherein nutritious and hygienic food is made availed at subsidized rates should be implemented.
Q: Have you visited any of the Amma Canteens and eaten there?
A: I have not specifically visited the Amma Unavagam in Tamil Nadu but have had visited various community kitchens across India including Akshaypatra Foundation, Aam Aadmi Canteen serving lunch at LNJP Hospital in Delhi, to name a few, before filing the present PIL.
Ashima is a practising Advocate in the Supreme Court of India who along with Advocates Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi and Mandakini Singh has filed the abovementioned Public Interest Litigation on the establishment of Community-Kitchens across the nation.
Read Ashima Mandla’s piece on why she believes community kitchens could answer India’s problem of malnutrition. According to a study that was reported widely recently, 68.2 per cent of the total under-5 deaths – translating into 706,000 deaths – occur due to malnutrition. It is also believed to be the leading reason for the loss of health among all age groups, according to state-wide data on malnutrition presented by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and National Institute of Nutrition (NIN).