Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Human Rights Commission India has taken suo motu cognizance of a media report that a 5-year-old girl has allegedly died due to starvation and ill health as the family was not able to get food and medicinal care for her in Agra district of Uttar Pradesh.

The Commission has issued a notice to the Chief Secretary of Government of Uttar Pradesh calling for a detailed report within 4 weeks including the relief and rehabilitation provided to the family by the administration and the action taken against the delinquent officials. The Chief Secretary is also expected to issue instructions to all the district authorities to ensure that such incidents of cruelty and negligence should not recur in future.

The Commission has observed that a five-year-old innocent girl has apparently died due to starvation and illness while a number of social welfare schemes run by the Central and the State Government do exist. During the period of lockdown, the government agencies have specifically introduced number of schemes for the poor, migrant labourers and other vulnerable sections of the society. The State Government has made several statements that they are committed to ensure Right to Food, Shelter and Livelihood for the poor people and have been working on issues relating to labourers and labour laws but this heart-wrenching incident shows a different picture.

The Commission has further observed that it is not understandable what is the benefit of announcement of number of schemes when they do not reach the beneficiaries. A poor girl has lost her life, the breadwinner of the family is suffering from tuberculosis and is bedridden. The family is not only financially poor but also belongs to the Scheduled Caste for which special schemes have been announced by the Central and the State governments.

This is a serious issue of violation of human rights due to gross negligence by the local administration. It is for the local public servants to honestly implement the schemes, so that the poor and needy can avail the benefits which , apparently was not done in this case. Had the authorities been sincere and vigilant, loss of a precious human life could have been averted. The State cannot escape its liability and there is a need to fix the responsibility of the public servants who have not acted in accordance with the law to help the aggrieved family.

Reportedly, the girl was living with her parents and sister at Nagla Vidhichand village in Agra’s Baroli Ahir block. The family was without any work for about a month and in recent weeks the family went without food. Many families in the localities like them do not have a ration card. The five-year-old girl Sonia had become weak and had fever for three days. She could not bear the pain and succumbed to illness and hunger on Friday night.

The local authorities reportedly did nothing to help the family-like securing food in the lockdown-induced crisis. The District Administration has said it will find out where things went wrong and they have taken cognizance of the matter and an investigation has been ordered into the child’s death. Further, the District Administration said that the family has buried the body, which they should not have done as a postmortem would have ascertained the cause of death.

Reportedly, the District Magistrate has agreed that the families are suffering and he will ensure that all possible help is provided to the family.

National Human Rights Commission

Press Release dt. 23-08-2020

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: A Division Bench of Anil Kumar and Saurabh Lavania, JJ., addressed a Public Interest Litigation and sought the essential necessities and facilities being provided to the migrant workers.

Present PIL was filed to seek direction with regard to safeguarding the rights of migrant workers stranded Uttar Pradesh and in view of that their essential necessities to be fulfilled. The one’s who are moving on road shouldn’t be left starving.

State Counsel, H.P. Srivastava and S.B. Pandey, Assistant Solicitor General of India ensured the Court that the Guidelines issued by Ministry of Home Affairs and Supreme Court will be fully carried out by the State of Uttar Pradesh.

Bench in view of the above directed the respondents to file a status report for the above indicating what facilities have been provided to workers/labourers who are keen to reach back their native place in State of U.P.,some of which are on the way as also to the stranded workers/labourers in the State of U.P. [Dileep Kumar Mishra v. U.O.I, 2020 SCC OnLine All 617 , decided on 21-05-2020]

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Gujarat High Court: A Division Bench of J.B. Pardiwala and Ilesh J. Vora, JJ., took suo moto cognizance of certain issues like the food, shelter for migrant workers, travel to hometowns, etc.

Court took notice of a few news items and took suo moto cognizance of the same, wherein the following was noted:

Caught in the Covid­19 crossfire

In pain? Grin and bear because cops won’t let you met your doc

With the police getting stricter in ensuring that people do not step out of their houses during the lockdown, patients with genuine ailments are suffering as they are at the receiving end”

People at large are finding it difficult t avail the necessary medical services. If a particular person is tested COVID-­19 positive, then he can get himself admitted in the Civil Hospital or any private hospitals as authorised by the State Government.

If a person has any other ailment and is in need of medical treatment, then he cannot be asked to remain himself locked in his house. Bench stated that, necessary arrangements for the same should be made.

Court also takes suo moto cognizance of the following news item:

“Give us food or kill us Now”, more than 200 people – daily wagers and their families – who have been living on footpaths near Ellisbridge say they haven’t had a morsel to eat for the past four days, volunteers used to bring there food, but since total lockdown, even that has stopped, they say”.

Court noted that, a large number of people are without any shelter or food which is the outcome of complete lockdown.

It has been reported that more than two hundred people living on the footpaths near the Ellisbridge have not had a morsel of food for the past four days. It is reported that the volunteers used to bring them food, but since the complete lockdown even that has stopped.

Thus, it is the paramount duty of the State Authorities to ensure that its citizen do not go hungry. It appears that there is no proper coordination amongst various departments of the State Government.

What is most essential as of now is a more humane approach or touch.

It appears the migrant workers are suffering the most. State Authorities should come forward with some modalities or plans to smoothen and ease the process so that the migrant workers may not have to wait for hours and hours together before they are able to board the trains or bus.

Another issue that was taken notice of was that, the Director General of Police State of Gujarat has asked the police to stop any worker seen walking and take them to the nearest shelter home.

For the above-stated, Court asked the State of Gujarat that how many shelter homes are functional and at which places.

Shelter Home should also provide for food and water, more particularly, having regard to the scorching heat.

Although all the necessary steps are being taken by the State Government, yet we are of the view that few more modalities need to be worked out at the earliest to ease the suffering of the people at large.

State Government should take note of the fact that they are dealing with the most downtrodden, under privileged and weaker sections of the society and these people are not afraid of COVID-19, but are afraid that they would die of starvation.

It is hightime for the State Government to deal with this delicate situation very carefully and instill confidence in the minds of the people at large that they will be taken care of.

In view of the above, Court took suo moto cognizance and sought State Government’s response. Matter shall be listed on 14th May, 2020. [Suo motu v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 718 , decided on 11-05-2020]

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: A bench headed by SA Bobde, CJ has granted four weeks time to states and Union Territories to respond on a plea alleging death by starvation of persons due to denial of ration over problems in Aadhaar linkage with ration cards. The Court noted that most of the States and Union Territories have not filed their response on the plea and asked them to submit their response. The court was informed that only Jharkhand, Nagaland, and Tamil Nadu have filed the reply in the case.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioner, contended that Aadhaar linkage has resulted in 2.33 crore cancellation of ration cards between the years 2013 and 2016. Earlier, the Court had sought a response from the States on whether a person being denied rations over Aadhaar linkage.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a statement that 3 crores cards have been cancelled, Gonsalves argued, adding that 85 per cent cards were wrongly cancelled according to a recent survey. The petition was filed on behalf of the mother Koili Devi and sister Gudiya Devi of Santoshi, an 11-year-old girl from Simdega, Karimati in Jharkhand who died of starvation on September 28, 2017.

The petition highlighted that Santoshi’s death was due to the cancellation of her poor Dalit family’s ration card since it had not been linked to their Aadhaar card. Their rations had been stopped from March 2017, because of which, the entire family had been starving. On the day of Santoshi’s death, her mother served her some tea and salt – the only two things they had left. Later that night, Santoshi died, the plea said. Gonsalves has contended that in many states, the “notification is there but when tribals go to the centres there is no ration.”

(Source: ANI)

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Irked over repeated failures of the Centre and States to file their replies, the bench of N V Ramana, Ajay Rastogi and V Ramasubramanian, JJ came down heavily and imposed cost of Rs. 5 lakh on them for not complying with its directions to file their affidavits on a PIL seeking setting up of community kitchens across the country. During the hearing, the Court said if the Union of India and the States file their affidavit in the next 24 hours then they will have to pay only Rs. 1 lakh fine, whereas those who still fail to submit it by then will have to pay Rs 5 lakh fine.

The Court said that five states, Punjab, Nagaland, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, and Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar, who have filed their responses on the PIL filed by Anun Dhawan, will not pay any fine.

The Court said that,

“It is unfortunate to note that even after lapse of considerable period of time, there is no proper response from the State Governments.”

Advocate Ashima Mandla, appearing for the petitioner said that five months have passed since the Court had issued notice and except for five states and one union territory, no other states and UTs have filed their response. She said that 69% of children under the age of five who have lost their lives are due to malnutrition and it is high time that States take steps to set up community kitchens.

Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, appearing for the Centre sought some more time to file response to the PIL. The bench, however, posted the matter for further hearing on February 17 and asked the Centre and state to file their responses at the earliest with the cost.

The Court had on October 18 favoured setting up of community kitchens, saying the country needs this kind of system to tackle the problem of hunger. It had issued notices to the Centre and all states seeking their responses on a PIL seeking directions to all the states and union territories (UTs) to formulate a scheme for community kitchens to combat hunger and malnutrition.

The plea had claimed that many children, under the age of five, die every day due to hunger and malnutrition and this condition was violative of various fundamental rights, including the right to food and life of citizens. The PIL, filed by social activists Anun Dhawan, Ishann Dhawan and Kunjana Singh, had also sought a direction to the Centre for creating a national food grid for people falling outside the purview of the public distribution scheme.

It had also sought issuance of an order to the National Legal Services Authority (NLSA) for formulating a scheme to mitigate hunger-related deaths.

The plea referred to the state-funded community kitchens being run in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Jharkhand and Delhi that serve meals at subsidised rates in hygienic conditions.

The plea also referred to the concepts of soup kitchen, meal centre, food kitchen or community kitchen, in other countries, where food is offered to the hungry usually for free or sometimes at below-market price.

The petition, filed through advocates Ashima Mandla and Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi, had said that the Centre and its various ministries have initiated and implemented various schemes to combat hunger, malnutrition and the resulting starvation, although in reality, effective implementation of the schemes was “unclear and fairly limited”.

The statistics on starvation deaths in the country are unavailable and starvation as the cause of death can only be ascertained upon autopsy after death, the plea said, adding that global agencies report that more than three lakh children die every year in India because of hunger, whereas 38 per cent below the age of five are stunted.

“Implementation of community kitchens funded by state or in association with corporate social responsibility by a public-private partnership (PPP) may be implemented to complement the existing schemes,”

The petition also said that a 2010 report by the World Food Programme on the state of food insecurity in India indicates that increasing urban inequality, significant under-investment in urban health and nutrition infrastructure, workforce in casual or contract employment or even less remunerative self-employment, growth of slums and slum population lacking in most basic health and hygiene infrastructure has resulted in a permanent food and nutrition emergency.

[Anun Dhawan v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 165, order dated 10.02.2020]

(With inputs from PTI)