Supreme Court orders Centre, States to submit affidavits on resumption of anganwadi services

The Supreme Court has directed the Centre and the States to submit detailed affidavits on the implementation of a November 11 notification to immediately resume anganwadi services and distribution of supplementary nutrition to pregnant women, children and lactating mothers outside COVID-19 containment zones.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan has passed the order after senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for Maharashtra-based activist Dipika Jagatram Sahani, complained that neither food nor education has been provided for children as young as six years since the anganwadis continue to remain closed due to the pandemic.

The Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, submitted an affidavit containing the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on November 11. The guidelines covered the conduct of anganwadis outside containment zones in line with the COVID-19 health and safety protocol.

The Ministry had underlined that “under-nutrition is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in children under the age of five years”.

“Delivery of preventive services to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the nutrition is well recognised. Provision of essential services like growth monitoring referral, and supplementary nutrition, etc, to ensure the health and well-being of the pregnant ladies, lactating mothers and children below five years is most important. In view of COVID-19 pandemic globally, it is imperative to ensure, that the beneficiaries do not suffer and remain away from anganwadi services,” the Ministry noted.

The Women and Child Development Ministry said it had consulted the Ministry of Home Affairs, which had advised it, on October 22, that anganwadis “may be opened outside the containment zones, by adhering to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) related to health and security measures in consultation with State/UTs”.

However, Mr. Gonsalves said the anganwadi system has been lying paralysed since March. “From March 2020 to date, anganwadi system is closed. Pregnant women, lactating mothers and children are all suffering. Under-nutrition is one of the main causes of morbidity during COVID-19,” he submitted.

The court agreed to examine the issue.

“Let Government of India file a detailed affidavit with regard to implementation of the guidelines of November 11. The States may also file an additional affidavit regarding the measures taken with regard to guidelines of November 11,” the Bench has ordered.

The next hearing is scheduled for the week commencing on December 14.