No Starvation Deaths In Recent Times Including Pandemic: Centre to SC
The Centre submitted that it has spent lakhs of crores on more than 130 food-related schemes.
The Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that there has been no starvation death in recent times, including during adverse situations like the pandemic.
"Not a single state has shown data for starvation death," Attorney General KK Venugopal told the bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana.
"Can we understand that there are no starvation deaths?" the CJI NV Ramana asked. The CJI also pointed out that based on their affidavit, the Centre also questioned the very basis of the starvation deaths data that the petitioner Anun Dhawan relied on in his petition.
To this, Venugopal said: "There was a newspaper report about a child who died and it was found it was due to starvation. There was that one case."
The Supreme Court however did not buy into the Centre's submission. "Are you saying that today in this country, there are no starvation deaths? Justice Hima Kohli—one of the three judges on the bench—asked the Centre why it was relying on a 2015-2016 dated report on starvation deaths.
The top court was hearing a plea seeking the formulation of a pan-India policy for community kitchens to combat starvation.
Cannot dispute that the issue of malnutrition exists: Centre to SC
During the hearing, Attorney General KK Venugopal accepted that the issues of malnutrition existed and added that any resultant deaths due to starvation or not, "maybe presumed".
"UNICEF report had stated that malnutrition level in Indian children was five times more than that of China," Venugopal said. He added that the report also cited the example of a 5-year-old and one another to make its point. However, the Centre's stand is we are spending huge money on 130 food-related schemes," the AG said.
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana however said that the court was not questioning whether the government was spending money or not, the limited issue was that according to the National Family Health survey report statistics suggested that the cause of death statistics says that communicable paternal, maternal and malnutrition statistics is 25.7% for male and 30% for female.
Further, it is indicated that such deaths are more for children under 5 years of age. This report indicates malnutrition is also a cause of death, CJI Ramana added. The top court judge however acknowledged that the report was dated and directed the Centre to file a detailed affidavit reflecting updated data on whether there were any starvation deaths or not. "Let the Centre give us some data about the conditions of starvation deaths and which part of the country is suffering from it," CJI Ramana added.
The top court further pointed out that it was impossible to frame a uniform, straitjacket policy for all the states and reiterated the need for a nodal policy framed by the Centre. The Supreme Court directed the Centre to come up with a nodal scheme after taking all suggestions into account and then the states could implement the same if they wanted.
The Supreme Court advised the Centre not to take an adversarial approach to this issue. "We are not on larger issues of malnutrition, starvation etc. Hunger has to be satisfied. Everyone is admitting there's an issue. Have a humanitarian approach and ask your officers to apply their mind," the bench said.
Representing the petitioner Anun Dhawan, advocate Ashima Mandla submitted that starvation deaths are only found if there's an autopsy. "According to the National Health Family Survey 2019-2020, it is clear that for the first time there's been a reverse trend, malnutrition is at an all-time high, Mandla said.
Mandla also stressed the need for a court-appointed expert committee that could then formulate a policy.