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Use official population projections to expand food security coverage: SC tells Govt of India

By Our Representative 

The Supreme Court has directed the Government of India to increase coverage under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) so that “more and more needy persons/citizens get the benefit” under NFSA, insisting the government must "consider projection of population increase during the decade 2011-2021 so that benefits are not restricted to the coverage as per 2011 census."
The Supreme Court order follows hearing on July 21 of an application (MA 94/2022) seeking compliance with its judgement in Suo Motu Writ Petition regarding Problems and Miseries of Migrant Labourers (Suo Motu Writ Petition 6/2020). The matter was heard by the bench of Justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna.
The order, which was reserved after hearing the matter, has been uploaded to the SC website. In its judgment in the migrant workers case in 2021, the SC had directed the GoI to redetermine coverage as per Section 9 of the NFSA. However, the GoI did not undertake any exercise to re-determine coverage under NFSA and, therefore, the current petition was filed seeking compliance with the directions of the SC.
In its affidavit, GoI stated that the Act requires coverage to be updated as per latest published census figures, and as the census of 2021 has been postponed indefinitely and no date has been notified regarding the publication of the same, the coverage cannot be re-determined.
During the hearing it was pointed out by the counsel for the petitioners -- Anjali Bhardwaj, Harsh Mander and Jagdeep Chhokar -- that due to the coverage not being increased, despite the increase in population, more than 10 crore people who should have been issued ration cards have been left out of the purview of the food security net.
SC insisted that Right to Food is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India
It was suggested by the counsel that in light of the delay in the publication of census 2021, the government could use official population projections published by the Health Ministry to expand the coverage.
Taking note of the submission, the SC in its order observed that these concerns are “genuine and justified” and directed the government to “look into the same and come out with a formula and/or appropriate policy/scheme, if any, so that the benefits under NFSA are not restricted as per the census 2011 and more and more needy persons/citizens get the benefit under the National Food Security Act".
Insisting that Right to Food is a fundamental right available under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the SC order said, "The Union Government may look into the same by considering the figures/projection of population increase during the decade 2011-2021, which would be on an assessment of increase in population and file their response on the next date of hearing.”
The SC reiterated the need to ensure registration of unorganised sector workers, emphasizing that the purpose and need for registration is to ensure that they are able to access benefits under various welfare schemes and policies.
The matter is now listed for September 27, 2022. Counsels Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl D’Souza represented the petitioners in the matter.

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