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Patna HC asks state to protect children from abject poverty

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Court takes suo motu action on media report, pulls up Govt. for not protecting poor kids of Bhagalpur district

An article published in the Indian Express’ July 6 edition said that stoppage of school and mid-day meals during this pandemic (Anganwadi centres are also shut) has forced children in the Bhagalpur district of Bihar to return to their rag-picking ways.

The High Court of Patna on July 6 took suo motu cognizance of this news item and has impleaded as respondents the State of Bihar through its Chief Secretary, the Department of Health & Family Welfare and the Department of Education.

The court has directed the state to see that no child slides back into rag-picking and such other activity.

The bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S. Kumar remarked: “The news article highlights an issue of public importance and relevance. It concerns the welfare of children hailing from the lower most strata of the society; the marginalized, downtrodden, socially and economically deprived section of the society.”

The report highlights the horrible state of affairs that has visited the poor children since lockdown was imposed.

The report said that it was noted that payments of Rs 114.21 to children from classes 1 to 5, and Rs 171.17 to children from classes 6 to 8 had supposedly been remitted directly into the bank accounts of their parents. However, incidents were reported where no money stood remitted into the bank accounts of parents since April 2020. That was what started the slide.

While issuing notice to the state government the bench observed: “The relevant issue that arises is 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?”

The court further suggested that for meeting the minimum nutritional requirement of a child, Anganwadi centres; community centre(s) or the schools can be opened up, for a limited purpose of providing food to the children in conformity with the directions issued by the authorities for meeting with the situation of the current Pandemic Covid-19.

However, in the interregnum, the bench directed the state to ensure that no child is pushed into or indulges in any activity of rack picking or beggary, more so on account of lack of food.

The matter has been listed for next hearing on July 8.

-India Legal Bureau

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