New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to examine a PIL seeking re-opening of around 14 lakh Anganwadi centres, which were shut down due to lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19.
A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and M.R. Shah issued notice to the Centre as well as the states.
“Issue notice, returnable in four weeks. Learned counsel for the petitioner is permitted to serve a copy of this petition to the office of learned Solicitor General of India,” it said.
The plea, filed by Dipika Jagatram Sahani, contended that Anganwadi centres, running under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme for decades, were closed down using Covid as an excuse.
As a result, the most vulnerable sections of the population suffered malnutrition nation-wide, it said, and sought re-starting of these centres immediately, as the right to food is a right recognised as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.
“The functioning of all Anganwadis centres in the country came to a sudden halt, poor pregnant mothers, lactating women and children were left in the lurch and had to find ways to get basic food particularly when food was scarce for them even on an ordinary day,” said the plea.
The plea claimed if there are no immediate steps to address the supply of food to the vulnerable women and children, then there is a fear of starvation deaths in the country causing irreparable loss.
The plea contended that the ICDS is a flagship programme of the Centre, which not only provides food and nutrition to the beneficiaries which include pregnant women, lactating mothers, adolescent girls besides children below 6 years, nonetheless it provides preschool education, primary health care, nutrition and health information, immunisation, health check-up and referral services to the beneficiaries.
“The Supreme Court has passed a slew of directives in the Writ Petition (Civil) no. 196 of 2001, People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India and others (PUCL vs. UoI), for protection of right to food of the poor and the underprivileged sections, including children. Several schemes of the Central and state governments have been subject matter of the above petition,” said the plea.
The petitioner urged the apex court to issue direction to Centre and all states to forthwith reopen all the Anganwadi centres in the country and provide Anganwadi services as before the lockdown and in accordance with section 4 to 7 of the National Food Security Act, 2013.
The petitioner also sought directions to ensure hot, cooked meals, take-home ration and other provisions for the growth of children.