Delhi High Court orders Government to pay compensation to children for being served contaminated food under Mid Day Meal Scheme
This Public Interest Litigation Harit Recycler association v/s union of India (Writ Petition Civil no. 2714 of 2010) was brought before Hon'ble Delhi High Court after a fact finding by HRLN into an incident of poisonous food being given to 126 children in a school under Mid Day Meal Scheme in Delhi, which resulted into serious health hazard for such children. Under Mid Day Meal scheme, the responsibility to provide food to children in the schools is given under contract to various non-governmental organizations as service providers by the Government. This case illustrated the dismal condition of quality of food, its monitoring and quality control arrangements under such food distribution scheme. The Mid Day Meal Scheme has been launched for improving the nutritional status of children in classes I-V in Government, Local Body and Government aided schools, for encouraging poor children belonging to the disadvantaged sections to attend school more regularly, however this petition highlighted the sorry state of affair vis a vis this scheme where sub-standard and unhygienic food is being provided even in the Capital city of this country. The Hon'ble Delhi High Court while pronouncing the Judgment referred to the several judgments of Hon'ble Supreme Court in order to highlight the need of food and its significant in a welfare state. The Court observed: "19. & It would not be out of place if it is said that the test of true democracy is in the fulfillment of the biological and mental needs of a citizen in a state which respects liberty. In a true democracy no one would like to live without dignity. No one would like to barter his dignity for all the tea in China." Granting compensation the Court further held: "There cannot be any iota of doubt that the State bore the expenses for treatment but, a pregnant one, the young children suffered physical pain and indubitably, mental agony. The mental shock of a child, who goes to the casualty ward, can be well imagined. The children, who were admitted in intensive care unit, have suffered more than others. The parents may not be granted any amount for expenses, but the children, who suffered, are definitely entitled to compensation for their physical pain and suffering, and mental agony and anguish. The psychology of the young children has to be understood in proper perspective." The Hon'ble Court further held that as the Scheme has been introduced by the government it is the obligation of the State to see that it is properly worked out and no one becomes a victim and suffers from any kind of health hazard due to consumption of bad food. The Scheme has its public character. Hence, there can be no trace or shadow of doubt that it is the State Government, which has to pay the compensation as the lacunae come within the State action and the grievance agitated falls within the public law domain. Court also directed the authorities to proceed against the said NGO in accordance with law.