The Bombay High Court on Friday ordered the authorities to ensure that no individual, be they a tribal, migrant or a sex worker, is left without food and other basic necessities during the "darkest hours" of their lives brought on by the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. The HC also reminded the Maharashtra government and its authorities that the right to life is the most fundamental of all the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Amjad Sayed was dealing with a plea seeking directions to the authorities to forthwith provide food supplies to adivasis or tribals from the 16 sensitive project areas.
These areas include the most remote regions from Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Nashik, Dhule, Nandurbar, Jalgaon, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Bhandara, Gondia, Nagpur, Yavatmal, Melghat (Amravati) and Kinvat (Aurangabad) districts. The plea also sought similar relief for commercial sex workers across Maharashtra.
Countering the contentions, the government had in its affidavit claimed that it has given foodgrain to all the tribal communities. It also pointed out a circular issued in April, wherein all the district collectors were asked to provide benefits of the Public Distribution System (PDS) to vulnerable households, specially migrant labourers.
The petitioners further poked holes in the tall claims made by the government and informed the bench that on the ground level, members of the tribal community were not deriving the benefits of either the public distribution system or other welfare measures devised to ensure that such members do enjoy the right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.
While opposing the arguments, government counsel BV Samant assured the bench that foodgrain and other essential items, in terms of the various welfare schemes, were reaching tribals.
Taking this statement on record, CJ Datta said, "We have no doubt in our mind that in these testing times, the authorities would leave no stone unturned to reach out to the members of the tribal community, who are marginalised people, and ensure that not a single member is left without food and the basic necessities in these dark hours."
"After all, they must not forget that Article 21 is the most fundamental of all Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution. We hope and trust that the statement made, would be honoured by the authorities in the right perspective," CJ Datta held, while disposing of the matter.