The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that children are the future of the country and any miserly attitude in providing them nutrition would deprive the country of its true potential.
The top court directed all states and Union Territories to open Anganwadi Kendra, situated outside the containment zones, before January 31, and ensure pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children got nutritional support as per the statutory requirement.
"Children are the next generation and therefore, unless and until children and women have nutritious food, it will affect the next generation and ultimately the country as a whole," a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah said.
The court also said all states and Union Territories should evolve as an appropriate mechanism for supervision so that dues are received by beneficiaries for whom schemes are in place.
"It is for the state to secure health to its citizens as its primary duty," the bench said.
The court said no doubt, the government was rendering its obligation through various schemes, such as, opening of Anganwadis, providing nutritious food through Anganwadis, Mid-day Meal Scheme, etc, but in order to make it meaningful, it has to be within the reach of its people, as far as possible.
It said the government must supply nutritious food in the real sense bearing in mind the provisions of National Food Security Act.
"No one can doubt that children are the future of our country and if there is some stinginess in providing them with adequate nutrition, the country as a whole is deprived in future of taking the benefit of their potential," the bench said.
The court passed its judgement on a PIL by Dipika Jagatram Sahani seeking directions to reopen Anganwadi centres closed due to Covid-19 lockdown.
The Union government, for its part, said it had on November 11, 2020 provided resumption of Anganwadi services outside containment zones with immediate effect, after complying health and safety protocols. In a few UTs and states like Andaman and Nicobar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Meghalaya and Rajasthan, Anganwadi Centres have been opened and services are being provided therein. Some of the states have stated that the centres are closed till December 31, 2020.
The court, however, directed the decision for not opening Anganwadi centres outside containment zones in any state or Union Territory and a decision should be taken only after the State Disaster Management Authority directed for it.
Reminding the states of its duty, the bench said, "Inadequate supply of nutritious food to the citizens, more particularly to the children and the women, shall affect their health. Therefore, the same shall be in violation of their fundamental right to health/right to live with dignity guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution."