New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 26, pulled up the governments of the drought-hit states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka for not appointing state food commissions or not making them operational.
A bench of justices M.B. Lokur and N.V. Ramana, which had summoned the chief secretaries of ten states on the issue, directed that the state food commissions must be appointed as per the provisions of the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
The apex court pulled up Madhya Pradesh government for not appointing the members of the commission so far and said the “state is following a new procedure for selecting members by way of advertisements”.
The bench’s observation came when the state’s chief secretary said that they had issued a notification for appointment of the commission on April 11 and selection of its members through an advertisement.
“Under what provisions of law have you issued notification for selection of members of commission? Is it a new procedure Madhya Pradesh has been following or are you following the precedent? Do you issue advertisements for selection of chief secretary or other departmental secretaries or for that matter cabinet ministers,” the bench asked.
The Madhya Pradesh counsel said it was a matter of transparency and once the application from interested candidates are received, these will be sorted by a committee headed by chief secretary and then sent to the chief minister.
In reply to this, the bench observed that it feels that the state was not serious about appointing the commission.
“There are ways to circumvent law and it is unfortunate that senior officials are doing this,” it said, directing the chief secretary to be present for the next hearing in July.
The order came on a plea filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan seeking reliefs for farmers in drought affected states.
With regard to Maharashtra, additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta appeared for the state and said that they had appointed five members of the commission but two members from SC/ST are yet to be appointed.
“This is extremely unfortunate that the deprived sections of society are being treated this way. You are not able to find two appropriate persons from the SC/ST community in the entire state,” the bench asked and directed Maharashtra chief secretary to appear before it again in the next hearing.
The apex court also pulled up Bihar government for not appointing two members of the commission, asking whether it thought that food for the people was not important.
“You have made appointment of five members. Why have you not made appointment of other two members till now? Do you think people of Bihar do not need food or do you think food for the people of Bihar is not important,” the bench said.
Bihar chief secretary said the appointment of the two other members will be done in two weeks and it was not done so far as no suitable candidates were found by the selection committee.
The apex court was told by Andhra Pradesh that the selection committee has been constituted after the notification was issued on April 17 and the members of the commission will be appointed in six months.
Dissatisfied by the response, the bench asked the AP chief secretary also to be present on the next date of hearing and inform them about the status of the food commission there.
The chief secretary of the Karnataka government, who failed to appear, was directed by the bench to appear before it tomorrow.
With regard to Haryana, the apex court directed the Punjab and Haryana high court to expeditiously decide a plea pending with it.
The bench granted exemption to the chief secretary of Chattisgarh due to the recent Naxal attack in which 25 CRPF jawans were killed and recorded that the commission had been appointed.
The bench also took on record the statements of chief secretaries of Gujarat, Jharkhand and Telangana that appointments to the state food commission have been done.
The hearing remained inconclusive and the bench posted the matter for tomorrow for further hearing on issues like MNREGA, crop loss, loan restructuring in the drought-hit states.
The apex court had on March 22, summoned the chief secretaries of ten such states for failing to implement the NFSA. It had said that with regard to the statute, the state governments have to appoint the food commission and cannot give a “go by to the statute enacted by the Parliament”.
The court had also impleaded the RBI as a party to the case as the guidelines issued for loan waiver and loan restructuring of farmers of drought-hit areas were not being implemented by the banks.
The PIL has claimed that parts of 12 states – Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chhattisgarh – were hit by drought and the authorities were not providing adequate relief.
The petitioners had claimed before the court that the directions issued by it in the matter were not complied with by these states.