Justices M.M. Sundresh and R. Hemalatha said the court would not compromise on issues related to the nutritional and hygiene requirements of schoolchildren, who were missing many benefits due to the closure of schools since March 17 because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

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Give eggs, sanitary napkins to students: HC
Short shelf life: The government pleaded before the High Court that there were practical problems in distributing
Short shelf life: The government pleaded before the High Court that there were practical problems in distributing | Photo Credit: Specialarrangement
Mohamed Imranullah S.
CHENNAI 03 AUGUST 2020 23:58 IST
UPDATED: 03 AUGUST 2020 23:58 IST

‘Court will not compromise on nutritional and hygiene requirements of children’
The Madras High Court on Monday said the government should stop giving excuses for not being able to distribute eggs and sanitary napkins to needy children, and instead start working on ways and means to ensure that the benefits reach everyone.

Justices M.M. Sundresh and R. Hemalatha said the court would not compromise on issues related to the nutritional and hygiene requirements of schoolchildren, who were missing many benefits due to the closure of schools since March 17 because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Although the judges even dictated an order to that effect on a public interest litigation petition filed by advocate R. Sudha, they later kept it in abeyance for a day at the instance of law officer G.K. Muthukumar who sought time to get instructions from the Social Welfare Department.

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When the case was taken up for hearing, the Special Government Pleader told the court that 71.59 lakh sanitary napkins had been distributed to 23.86 lakh girls and postnatal mothers through primary health centre (PHC) nurses between April and July.

Dry rations

Similarly, dry rations, in lieu of boiled eggs and other nutritional food provided to children during working days, were being handed over once a month to the children or their parents by asking them to visit the schools. The distribution was supervised by headmasters, he said.

However, he said that eggs could not be distributed because of practical difficulties in transportation and distribution. He said that eggs had a shelf life of only seven to 10 days and hence, it would be difficult to distribute them periodically.

Not impressed by such submissions, the senior judge said the government could distribute a box of seven to 10 raw eggs at a time to every beneficiary since malnutrition was a major concern, and it was the bounden duty of the State to take care of the marginalised. When the Special Government Pleader cited the maintenance of physical distancing as one of the reasons for not being able to distribute eggs periodically, Justice Sundresh wondered why that was not being cited as a ground when it came to State-run liquor shops.

He said the government could not ignore such issues when it came to revenue generation and must take the same issues into serious consideration when it came to public welfare. Distribution of eggs should not be a problem since the lockdown had been relaxed, he said.

Services of teachers

The Division Bench found force in the submission of petitioner’s counsel Vasudha Thiagarajan that not all needy adolescent girls had been provided with sanitary napkins, which they otherwise get for free through vending machines in government schools.

The court suggested that the services of schoolteachers, who were drawing salary but had no work to do during the lockdown, could be used to identify the children who were in need of eggs and sanitary napkins. It hoped the teachers would rise to the occasion.

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