Mansimran Kaur

Bengaluru, May 31, 2022: While observing that Section 21 of the General Clauses Act does not confer unfettered or unbridled powers on the State Government to withdraw its earlier order dated May 5, 2021, wherein guidelines were issued for the purpose of entering into various agreements in relation to the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme, the Karnataka High Court has directed the State Government to take necessary steps to forthwith implement and give effect to the ICDS Scheme immediately without any further delay.

The Division Bench of Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justice S.R. Krishna Kumar was considering a batch of petitions concerned with the implementation of the ICDS Scheme, the government circular dated July 2, 2021, order dated May 5, 2021 as well as the withdrawal orders dated May 15, 2021 and May 20, 2021.Factual background of the case was such that the ICDS scheme was initiated by the State of Karnataka and the beneficiaries comprising of children aged about 0 – 6 years, pregnant women and lactating mothers depended on this Scheme to receive 50% of their recommended dietary allowance per day. This ‘recommended dietary allowance’ is the level of nutrition that a healthy person shall consume to live a healthy life. 

Thereafter, the Supreme Court of India directed the State Government to not use contractors for supply of nutrition in Anganwadis. The Apex Court further directed that the preferably ICDS funds shall be spent by making use of village communities, self help groups and Mahila groups for buying of grains and preparation of meals.  In pursuance of the same, the State of Karnataka established 137 Mahila Supplementary Nutrition Product Training Centres for implementation of the ICDS scheme. However, several reports reflected the tardy implementation of this scheme. So, the State Government issued an order on May 5, 2021 pertaining to various agreements to be entered into by all MSTPCs with BIS licensed woman groups. In the said order all relevant and material facts, orders of Apex Court, orders passed by this Court, Central and State Government orders, notifications, circulars were referred to and directions were issued for the purpose of entering into the aforesaid agreements with respect to the ICDS scheme. 

The cause of action stemmed from the point when, on May 15, 2021, the State Government passed the government order substituting the earlier order dated May 5, 2021. Moreover another government order dated May 20, 2021 was passed unconditionally through which the circular dated July 2, 20202 was withdrawn wherein the State Government directed to use supply of good quality of food items to the beneficiaries of the AWCs under the ICDS scheme. 

The Court opined that it was rightly contended by the Counsel of the petitioners that the impugned orders were illegal and arbitrary in nature. The Court further stated that a perusal of circular dated July 2, 2020 Government order dated May 5, 2021 as well as the technical committee report dated August 19, 2021, clearly depicted the  feasibility for the MSPTCs to tie up with BIS licenced / certified women self help groups such as the petitioners and the same was  acknowledged and recommended by the State Government bearing in mind the objectives of the scheme, Apex Court directions and the relevant norms / rules. It was clarified that the impugned orders purporting to withdraw the circular dated July 2, 2020 and Government order dated May 5, 2021 were illegal, arbitrary and deserve to be quashed.

Additionally the Court held that the impugned orders were completely unreasoned, non-speaking, cryptic, laconic and arbitrary orders which had been passed unconditionally and unilaterally without assigning any reasons and without any application of mind, thereby being violative and contrary to the principles of natural justice.It was also opined that respondents were not entitled to unilaterally and unconditionally issue the impugned orders under Section 21 of the General Clauses Act.

Referring to the judgment of the Apex Court in Shyra Bano vs. Union of India, the Court said, “…consequent upon issuance of the impugned orders dated 15.05.2021 and 20.05.2021, the circular dated 02.07.2020 and order dated 05.05.2021 are sought to be withdrawn, thereby denying more than 50 lakhs beneficiaries in Karnataka, the right to nutritious food, particularly to pregnant women, lactating mothers and children whose fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution of India stands violated and on this score also, the impugned orders being arbitrary and capricious under Article 14 of the Constitution of India deserve to be quashed…” . Thus, in light of the aforesaid observations, the impugned orders were quashed and set aside. Accordingly, the petition was allowed. 

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