HC Slams AAP Government on Resolution to Restrict Non-PDS Beneficiaries, Says Coverage Arbitrary

Observing that providing ration is the obligation of the State and it cannot deny food to the hungry, the Delhi High Court Friday slammed the AAP government for putting a limit of 20 lakh beneficiaries for providing them dry ration under its non-PDS guidelines.

These are not issues on which you keep debating policy and say that file is under consideration. This is your obligation under the National Food Security Act.” the high court said adding that the Delhi government has randomly and arbitrarily reduced the quota. The figure of 69.6 lakh beneficiaries has been ascertained on what basis. Then how do you randomly and arbitrarily reduce the allotment to 20 lakh.

If you are a State it’s your obligation. If somebody who is hungry comes to your distribution centre, will he wait for your policy. Why have a figure at all. Anybody who is hungry should get food, a vacation bench of Justices Anup Bhambhani and Jasmeet Singh, said.

The high court questioned the Delhi government and said, if somebody shows at your distribution centre saying that I need food grain, will you deny him food. The bench noted that one time relief will be inadequate especially at the time of the pandemic and also when there is possibility of a third wave.

In an affidavit filed by the Delhi government, it told the court that as of June 23, out of the cap of 20 lakh, 15.5 lakh people had already availed of rations under the guidelines. The bench directed the counsel for the AAP government to take instruction on the matter after it was informed that the Delhi Cabinet is seized of this issue. The court directed the Delhi government to file a fresh affidavit and the next hearing is now scheduled for July 9.

Senior advocate Trideep Pais, appearing for the petitioner NGO, told the court that there were 588 distribution centres last year for food grains while this year there are only 282 centres which shows arbitrariness. The high court had earlier sought response of the Delhi government on a plea challenging its non-PDS guidelines putting an arbitrary limit of 20 lakh beneficiaries for providing them dry ration.

The bench had issued notice to the Delhi government and Centre on an application filed by NGO Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan which said food grains be given to all the needy persons. The application has also sought direction to the AAP government to modify the May 27 guidelines to the extent that it should not be a mere one time relief measure and that the beneficiaries may receive dry ration (food grains) for every calendar month until further orders.

The petitioner’s counsel said the Delhi government has stopped distributing dry ration to non-PDS beneficiaries at several centres. “The impugned guidelines (of May 27) have put an arbitrary limit of 20 lakh beneficiaries under the scheme. This limit of 20 lakh appears to have no rational basis whatsoever. The provisioning and the estimate of the number of persons who are in need of the benefits under the scheme ought to be based on the number of people who in fact had benefitted under a similar scheme last year.

In 2020, when the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, pursuant the orders of this court, nearly 69.6 lakh persons, who did not possess ration cards, registered under the e-coupon scheme and were provided dry rations. Therefore rations must be provided to all those who are in need, as also ordered last year, the plea, filed through advocate S Prasanna, said. It also sought to direct the authorities to provide for a helpline number for people to register complaints regarding problems with registering or availing benefits under the scheme and a mandate for nodal officers to place on the official website the action taken by them in that behalf within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

The application has been filed by the NGO in its pending petition challenging the decision to link ration cards with Aadhaar.

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