The Supreme Court today summoned Chief Secretaries of nine drought affected states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, for failing to implement the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
A bench headed by Justice M B Lokur said despite considerable time having passed since the law came into force, these states have failed to enforce it.
"It is a matter of concern that a Parliamentary statute is not being given importance. Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution is also involved. State Food Commission, as mandated under section 16 of the National Food Security Act, has not being appointed," the bench, also comprising Justice N V Ramana, said.
It said that with regard to the statute, the state governments have to appoint the food commission and it cannot give a "go by to the statute enacted by the Parliament".
"In view of the above, we summon the Chief Secretaries of the states. We require the Chief Secretaries to appoint the state food commission and the details should be furnished. Details should also be given with regard to section 15 of the National Food Security Act by which state governments have to frame rules for the appointment or designation of the District Grievance Redressal Officer," the bench said.
It directed the Chief Secretaries of the states to inform whether a social audit can be conducted, as provided under the Food Security Act or not.
Besides Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, other states whose Chief Secretaries have been summoned include Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chhattisgarh.
The court exempted the Chief Secretaries of Odisha, which has complied with certain directions, and Telangana which has initiated the process of constituting the commission. It also exempted Uttar Pradesh after it complied with certain directions.
The bench's order came on a plea filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan seeking various relief for farmers in drought affected states.
The court also impleaded Reserve Bank of India as a party to the case as the guidelines issued for loan waiver and loan restructuring of farmers of drought-hit areas were not being implemented by banks.
The apex court noted that on December 1, 2016, it had said that despite the flexibility provided for in the Act for appointing an independent commission or designating any other commission to function as state food commission, the requirement of the statute has to be met.
"It is not as if some other body can be described as a State Food Commission even though the members of that body do not meet the requirement of Section 16 of the Act," the court had said.
The court also asked the Attorney General to file a detailed affidavit on MNREGA scheme dealing with aspects like delay in payment of wages, interest and compensation, reduction in mandays, functioning of central employment guarantee council, social audit and the report of task force.
It said that the court would also like to know from the Chief Secretaries who have been summoned about the implementation of mid-day meal scheme in drought affected areas of their states. The court posted the matter for further hearing on April26.
The apex court had on December 1 last year rejected the contention of the Attorney General that a political party or its wing cannot file a PIL being an interested party.
It had said that Swaraj India and not Swaraj Abhiyan has filed an application before the Election Commission of India for regsitration which was pending. So it termed the Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi's contention "premature" as on date.
The bench had also observed that it did not want politics to shift to courts and said that since the issue of registration of 'Swaraj India' as a political party was pending before the Election Commission, it would wait for the poll panel's decision in the matter.
Earlier, the court had asked the Centre to release all outstanding and necessary funds under MNREGA scheme to states and directed it to pay compensation for delayed wages to the farmers in drought-hit areas.
The PIL has alleged that parts of 12 states-- Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chhattisgarh -- were hit by drought and the authorities were not providing adequate relief.
The petitioners had claimed before the court that directions issued by it in the matter were not complied with by the states.