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The Delhi High Court has asked the Delhi government to file its response stating the reasons for stopping meals at shelter homes in Delhi.

A division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan has sought the Government response on a plea seeking directions to provide 3 nutritious meals a day including at least one serving of vegetable and fruit in the government run home shelters. It also sought direction to provide age appropriate nutritious breakfast to children as per Schedule II of the National Food Security Act, 2013 in all shelter homes in Delhi

During the hearing today, Counsel Anuj Chaturvedi appearing on behalf of the respondents, informed the Court on behalf of the shelter homes that they had been providing free food as per Jan Ahaar program, but had to stop it recently according to the mandate of Delhi government, as most inmates of these shelters have moved out due to the unlock. He later clarified that these instructions given by the Delhi government were verbal instructions.

Justice Prateek Jalan, however expressed disagreement with the decision.

 “If people are still living there, you should give them food even if it’s not covered by some Jan aahar scheme,” he said.

The Court allowed the request for more time to file a reply, made by the Counsel for GNCTD, and adjourned the matter till 29th July 2020.

A petition was filed in public interest challenging the non- action of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) in not providing three hygienically prepared meals a day in the government run shelter homes in Delhi in violation of the Central Govt notification dated 28.3.2020.

The petition stated that Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) is the authority responsible for running the shelter homes in Delhi, and as per the information from the official website of DUSIB, there are about 144 permanent and temporary shelter homes in Delhi who provide food and shelter to the urban homeless. The food is distributed in the shelter homes through private contractors or Shelter Management Agencies (SMAs), who are responsible to provide good quality meals to the urban homeless.

On 28th March 2020, the Central Govt issued a notification directing all the states and union territories to provide 3 meals a day in the shelter homes. The notification clearly stated that hygienically prepared meals a day should be provided to the people residing in shelter homes for which an amount of Rs.100/- per homeless per day may be incurred.

However, according to petitioners, the respondents violated these government guidelines in the following ways:

  • Only two meals of Rs.20/- each for lunch and dinner are being provided to the people at shelter homes.
  • The quality of the food is poor and below minimum standard, and the meals only consist of plain rice and dal which are of lowest quality available in the market. Sometimes, even leftover and stale food is provided to the people. No breakfast is served in these shelter homes, people have to wait till 2pm sometimes even till 4 pm to get lunch.
  • Only children are given breakfast at these shelter homes, which is not provided by the government but by few public spirited local NGOs. The children get one banana along with some chana/ daliya.
  • No soap, sanitizer, hand wash or masks are being provided to the urban homeless in these shelter homes, even when covid-19 is a highly contagious disease which can even result in death. The children and the elderly are particularly at high risk of contracting covid-19 and their mortality rate is also higher.

The petition also stated that the petitioners tried to complain of the bad quality food being served to them, but whenever they do, they are harassed and threatened for eviction by the shelter home authorities. They also fear being harassed or evicted by the shelter home authorities for filing this petition and raising these issues.

Therefore according to the petitioners, in a condition where the urban employment is on decline and the daily wage labourers are find it difficult to earn a living and have no savings left, these people are being left starving for hours in these shelter homes. The petitioners prayed that 3 nutritious meals a day including at least one serving of vegetable and fruit be provided to the urban homeless in all shelter homes in Delhi along with age appropriate nutritious breakfast to children according to the National Food Security Act, 2013

The respondents in their counter affidavit submitted that the government notification on which the petitioners had relied is applicable only to the NULM shelters provided in different states of India, and only for the period of lockdown in view of COVID-19. Therefore the scheme notification applies only to shelter homes which are designed & constructed as per NULM guidelines of Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs, and are being operated & managed with the NULM scheme funds.

However, the shelter homes involved in the present petition are managed and operated by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board under the said Plan Scheme of Delhi Govt and not under NULM scheme. Even though the Plan Scheme of the Delhi Government does not envisage the provision of food to the occupants of the Shelters operated by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, 2 meals per day were still being provided as per the Jan Aahar Scheme to the occupants of Shelters by the respondents in view of COVID-19.

-India Legal Bureau

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