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Midday meals: Right to Food implied in Right to life, says Patna High Court

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The right to food is an implication of the right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It encompasses the right to have regular, permanent, and unrestricted access to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food. This emanates from the right of every human being to live with dignity and freedom from hunger, Patna HC

The Patna High Court has said Children are the wealth of this nation. Our failure, or delay in acting on the present situation could lead to incorrigible long-term consequences on the health, development, and General well-being of our children while disposing off the Suo Motu plea.

The Patna High Court had took the Suo Motu cognizance of a news report titled as “School shut, no mid-day meal, children in Bihar village back to work selling scrap” published in the Indian Express.

The Court has pointed out two relevant major issues in the suo motu plea which are needed to be taken care in order to protect the welfare of the children. First, whether the State is fulfilling its statutory and constitutional mandate of providing food and nutritional security to children who have been adversely impacted by the closure of schools and Anganwadi centres due to the Pandemic COVID-19. The secondary issue that arises is that with the closing down of schools, what measures can be adopted to prevent school children from indulging in begging and garbage collection.

Due to increase in number of Covid-19 cases in the state, children are kept away from schools and Anganwadi centers to restrict the spread. As a result, many nutrition deficient children who rely heavily on government schemes to meet their daily nutrition requirements have been put at risk

-noted the Court.

The bench headed by the Chief Justice and Justice S. Kumar has passed the slew of directions to the State Government which includes:-

1- to continue schemes like the Mid Day Meal Scheme and the Sarwa Shiksha Scheme to provide meals or ration as feasible along with textbooks and notebooks to government school students.

2- Ensure that statutory benefits under the Food Security Act are disbursed in a timely manner, and updated records are maintained for the same.

3- Monitor the nutritional health of children by leveraging the reach of Anganwadi workers, who can keep track of children’s growth by recording the weight and height of children at regular intervals.

4- Work with the experts to procure and prepare digital lectures for students of all classes and age-groups.

5- Enhance the role of Anganwadi and NGO workers in every district, to help spread the message of the importance of continuing education via remote learning platforms. Parents to be educated, for ensuring the child’s continuous engagement in education during the pandemic.

6- Install community-level television sets and distribution of radio sets, ensuring the increase of reach of remote learning platforms. Perhaps, at the community level, small batches of children can be shown lectures on televisions, while maintaining social distancing norms.

7- With mobile handset penetration and telephone penetration in the State of Bihar being greater than Television and radio set penetration, the concerned authorities to consider, devising and implementing an action plan to utilize these mediums. To ensure engagement, consider expanding the possibility of waiver of telecom charges on the mobile handset or telephone being used for accessing educational programmes.

8- Use Telecom/digital infrastructure to mark the daily attendance of students. A call placed on the designated toll-free number may be programmed to record the daily attendance of the concerned student. i. Organize a robust “Back to School” campaign in the wake of this pandemic, to ensure that a minimal dropout rate is achieved.

9- Further, workshops and training for teachers ought to be provided to ensure that they are well equipped in dealing with post-pandemic psychosocial needs of children

Read Also: Laxmi Vilas Hotel case: Rajasthan High Court stays attachment, makes warrants bailable

“The above directions, if implemented well, have the potential to provide immediate relief to more than 1 crore 19 Lakh school going children across the State, also tuned to establish long term machinery which shall support their development and care. We have no doubt that any elementary issues of data protection owing to the monitoring that may arise, would be dealt with adequately by the authorities,” 

said the Court in its order.

-India Legal Bureau

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