Supreme Court seeks responses from Centre and states on refugees' right to food

Supreme Court seeks responses from Centre and states on refugees' right to food
© Provided by The Times of India

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday sought responses from the Centre and state governments on a PIL, which sought free dry ration or cooked food thrice a day to Rohingya Muslims and refugees from other countries claiming that their right to food has been violated during the lockdown and consequent economic slowdown as most of them work as daily wagers.

A bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna issued notices to the Centre and some states, where these refugees are settled after petitioner Fazal Abdali through advocate Amiy Shukla claimed that there were more than two lakh refugees or asylum seekers in India, mostly working as daily wagers, living in pitiable conditions because of the apathy of the governments in providing them food, a constitutionally guaranteed right. SC posted the matter for further hearing on December 13.

Referring to the Rohingya Muslim settlements in Delhi, the petitioner said, “These cramped settlements make the residents vulnerable to Covid-19 infections. The water supplied to the settlements is highly contaminated. There have been several reports in the past of various critical health conditions because of the intake of groundwater. Water tankers used to visit these areas, however, there has been no supply of clean drinking water since the announcement of the lockdown by the Delhi government.”

Abdali said, “Most of the Rohingyas work as daily wagers and the lockdown has affected their livelihood. It has resulted in a near-famine state for most Rohingya families as they have no source of income and documents to avail government services. In 2020, when the lockdown was first declared by the central government, due to no ration assistance, the Rohingyas ate from their own pockets for a few months, thus depleting their meagre savings.”

Last year, Abdali had moved a PIL before the Delhi HC claiming that Rohingya refugees in Delhi settlements are being denied healthcare and ration by Delhi government. On May 8 last year, A division bench of the HC led by Justice Manmohan had disposed of the petition terming the allegations vague and ordered – “present writ petition is disposed of with a direction to the petitioner to approach the Nodal Officer/Revenue Magistrate with precise allegations/particulars specifically mentioning the name and address of the refugee who has been denied medical aid or ration or drinking water. In the event, such a representation is filed, the same shall be disposed of by the Nodal Officer by a speaking order within three working days.”

The petitioner sought a direction from the SC to the Centre and the concerned states to “provide free dry rations to all the refugees and asylum seekers who are registered with the UNHCR, India without any requirement of Ration card, Aadhar card or any other documentation.” It also sought a direction to the governments to extend relief under various welfare schemes to all registered and unregistered refugees and asylum seekers including the new entrants from Myanmar due to conflict in that region.

It said the governments must ensure “free nutritious cooked meals thrice a day, through community kitchens are provided to refugees, asylum seekers including pregnant women and lactating mothers” at the place of their settlements as per the mandate of National Food Safety Act, 2013.

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