The Supreme Court came down heavily on the BJP government in Gujarat on Monday for failing to implement the National Food Security Act that mandates the state administration to provide 5 kg rice/wheat per member every month to all families below the poverty line (BPL).
“It is an Act passed by Parliament. Do you (Gujarat) want to break away from the Union of India? Tomorrow, Bihar will say we are not implementing it because Gujarat is not implementing it,” a bench headed by justice MB Lokur said, expressing shock at the scant regard shown by the state for Parliament.
“What is the Government of India doing? What is Parliament doing? Tomorrow some other states will say we are not going to implement CrPC, we will not implement IPC, the Indian Evidence Act,” the bench observed.
The comments came when solicitor general Ranjit Kumar informed the court that Gujarat was one of the states not following the NFA (National Food Security Act). Kumar was responding to the court’s query on which of the 11 drought-affected states had implemented the law. The court was hearing a PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan seeking a direction to states to distribute good grains not just to families below the poverty line but to all those living in states facing severe rural crises.
“Is Gujarat unique?” the bench said, repeating its question when Kumar tried to make more submissions. “We are nobody to tell you what you should be doing. But the question is whether you believe in Parliament, or Indian laws? As of now the law (Act) stands,” it said.
Kumar told the bench that Gujarat had certain reservations on the scheme and was yet to enforce it.
The bench did not appreciate that and said this could prompt other states to become obstinate and not follow central legislation. The drought-ridden states included Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh.
“A law is passed by Parliament. Can the states say we are not going to implement?” the bench wondered. “Today it is Gujarat, tomorrow Bihar... then Chhattisgarh. Haryana will say the same thing. Where is the system going?” the court remarked in despair.
Kumar then said that besides Gujarat eight other states were not implementing the NFA. He, however, said he did not have immediate details of the defaulting states. When he said Jharkhand was providing free grains, the bench was amused and told him, “But from tomorrow they might say that since Gujarat is not doing it, we will not do it too.”
“Karnataka is doing (implementing) it, they will say we will not implement. Madhya Pradesh will say we are not implementing. Telangana will say the same thing,” Justice Lokur observed.
Later, the court directed Kumar to place before it details of the scheme’s implementation by various states/Union territories by February 12 and posted the matter for further hearing on February 15.
Swaraj Abhiyan’s counsel Prashant Bhushan said besides rice or wheat the families in the drought-ridden states must also be provided 2 kg free pulses and 1 kg edible oil.