SC raps Centre on Food Act non-compliance by drought-hit states

New Delhi, Oct 5 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Wednesday slammed the Centre for doing nothing to tell the states to comply with the top court’s directions to supply food grain to the poor in drought-affected states under the National Food Security Act.

A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice N.V. Ramana said: “We will discharge the Union of India (as respondents from the case) if it is not able to do anything.”

The apex court asked petitioner-organisation Swaraj Abhiyan to file an affidavit to flag five or six court directions issued on May 11 that were not complied with by the drought-hit states across the country for initiation of contempt proceedings.

During the course of hearing, the petitioner’s counsel Prashant Bhushan said the contempt proceedings should not only be against the states concerned but also the Centre.

Taking a dim view of the Centre’s approach, Justice Lokur said: “The moment we ask you questions, it is construed as if we are attacking the government of India.”

As Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha sought to play down the ‘small issue’ of states not setting up ‘Food Commissions’ to monitor implementation of the act, Justice Lokur observed: “An Act of Parliament is being violated with impunity. (It) is not a small issue.”

The bench asked Narasimha to explain what he had said in the affidavit on the matter.

Section 16 (1) of the Food Security Act, 2013, says: “Every state government shall, by notification, constitute a state Food Commission for the purpose of monitoring and review of implementation of this Act.”

However, most state governments, taking recourse to the act’s Section 18, have saddled other existing commissions with additional responsibility of the Food Commissions.

Section 18 provides for the designation of any commission or body to function as the state Food Commission.

Clearly exasperated over non-compliance with the apex court orders and the Centre informing the bench that it had sent a communication to the states on the matter, Justice Ramana said: “If this is the way the matter is going on, there is no need to hear it. We are wasting your time.”

“An Act passed by Parliament has to be followed by the states. Let them say they don’t bother about the Act,” Justice Lokur said.

He asked Narasimha: “Is there a remedy under the Constitution if states don’t comply with the laws passed by Parliament?”

The Additional Solicitor General pointed to Article 365 which says that when a state does not comply with the Centre’s orders issued in exercise of its powers under the Constitution, the President can hold that a situation has arisen wherein the government of the said state cannot be carried on in accordance with the constitutional provisions.

The Supreme Court’s strong observations came during the course of hearing on the compliance of several apex court directions dated May 11, given in the judgment on a public interest litigation by Swaraj Abhiyan.

The organisation had sought the court’s intervention for relief to the poor in drought-affected states, including Gujarat, Bihar and Haryana.

The three states have resisted the suggestion that they declare some of their districts as drought-affected.

Justice Ramana said: “We are not getting any feel or visible change except that funds have been released. The mechanism has failed. The Acts of Parliament and directions of the (top) court are not being implemented.”

“Is it possible to monitor the 13-odd states from here,” Justice Ramana asked as ASG Narasimha urged the court to monitor the implementation of its directions.

Referring to his experience as amicus curiae in the hearing on setting up of fast-track courts and enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, Narasimha urged the Supreme Court to invoke its contempt powers and hold case hearing once a month to secure compliance with its directions.

Bhushan told the court: “The Centre is clearly in contempt for violating the undertaking given in the court that it will release food grain to meet the additional requirements of the drought-hit states. Now the Centre is asking for Minimum Support Price for releasing additional food grain.”