Brief facts of the case
This writ petition had been filed as a Public Interest Litigation under Article 32 of the Constitution of India questioning the closure of the Anganwadi Centers across the country. Through this petition the petitioner, Dipika Jagatram Sahani impleaded the Union of India, all States, and Union Territories and had prayed for granting the writ of mandamus directing the Union of India, all states, and Union Territories to reopen all Anganwadi Centers and began providing services as before lockdown, following Section 4 to 7 of the National Food Security Act, 2013.
The orders were passed by the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs to not attend the Anganwadi but after the lockdown came to an end, due to the non-opening of Anganwadi in various states beneficiaries, children, pregnant women, and lactating mothers are suffering as Anganwadis provide a hot meal, take Home rations to the aforesaid beneficiaries.
This lockdown had caused severe strain on the employment and livelihood of large sections of the society especially marginal sections, who require an immediate extension of all benefits envisaged in the scheme.
The Counsel had submitted additional documents in support of the writ petition and submits that even National Human Rights Commission had also made recommendations on 28.09.20020 and 29.09.2020 after impact assessment, issued an advisory to reopen Anganwadi Centers immediately.
He further submitted that due to non-providing of hot cooked meal to the children up to the age of six years and children who are affected by malnutrition they are suffering which needs immediate attention and remedial action.
It was submitted that the Union of India had filed its guidance dated 11.11.2020 providing resumption of Anganwadi Services outside containment zones immediately after complying with health and safety protocols. An Operation Guidance Note was also issued by the Union of India for the continuation of services in the context of COVID-19.
The Union of India referring to the Guidance Note dated 11.11.2020 had sought a status report from the states and union territories. It also stated that a few of the states and UTs like Andaman and Nicobar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Meghalaya and Rajasthan, Anganwadi Centers have been opened and services are being provided therein.
The Counsel appearing for the States and Union Territories had submitted that the States and Union Territories have been providing necessary Home Take Rations as per the requirements to the beneficiaries which were delivered at the doorsteps once in 15 days. Some of the states have stated that Anganwadi Centers have been opened.
Observations by the Court
The Court observed that the Children are the next generation and therefore until and unless the children and the women have the nutritious food, it will affect the next generation and ultimately the Country as a whole. Children are the future of our country and if there is some stinginess in providing them with adequate nutrition, the Country as a whole is deprived in the future of taking the benefit of their potential.
It is the statutory obligation of the Center and State to provide nutritional support to pregnant and lactating women and also to children and to take steps to identify and provided meals to children who suffer from malnutrition.
Government has a constitutional obligation to preserve human life. Even international covenants aim at the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health. Inadequate supply of nutritious food affects their health. This shall violate their fundamental right to health/right to live with dignity guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The Center as well as the States are statutorily obliged to implement statutory obligations as imposed under Sections 4,5 and,6 of the Act, 2013. The nutritional support should be of required standards which have already been laid down to schedule II of the Act 2013 and all the states/UTs are obliged to implement such scheme and have to comply with schedule II.
The order dated 25.11.2020 of the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, does not in any manner create any prohibition in the opening of Anganwadi centres. The above guidelines have been issued keeping in view the protection of vulnerable persons and which requires pregnant women, children below 10 years of age to stay at home. Services provided by Anganwadi Centers are essential services.
According to the guidance issued dated 11.11.2020, the Government of India permits the reopening of Anganwadi Centers with the consultation of the States/ Union Territories. There was no compulsion that the Anganwadi Centers will be opened only after the permission accorded by the Central Government and the State governments can itself decide for reopening of the Anganwadi Centers.
The government of India through its guidance note permitted all the States and Union Territories to open Anganwadi Centers, now the states/union territories must take the decision. All the states may review the situation and take positive decisions on or before 31.01.2021 and unless there are specific decisions taken by the State Disaster Management Authority of a particular state, Anganwadi Centers be opened on or before 31.01.2021.
The decision of the Court
The writ petition was allowed with the following directions:
All the states/Union Territories that have not yet opened the Anganwadi Centers shall decide to open Anganwadi Centers on or before 31.01.2021 situated outside the containment Zone.
The decision for not opening the Anganwadi Centers outside the containment zone in any State/ Union territory can only be taken only after the State Disaster Management Authority of the State directs for not opening.
Anganwadi Centers situated in the containment zone shall not be opened till the containment continues.
All States/Union Territories shall ensure nutritional standards as provided in Schedule II of the National Food Security Act, 2013.
All the States/ Union Territories shall issue necessary orders regarding monitoring and supervision of Anganwadi Centers to ensure that the benefit reaches the beneficiaries and a Complaint redressal Mechanism be put in place in each district.
The Parties were ordered to bear their costs.
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