Courts Update Delhi government informs Delhi High Court: Done away with...

Delhi government informs Delhi High Court: Done away with the cap on non-PDS beneficiaries for dry ration

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New Delhi Sept 24(ILNS): The Delhi Government, on Thursday, informed the Delhi High Court that the cap of 20 lakh on Non-PDS beneficiaries entitled to receive dry ration under the ‘Mukhya Mantri Corona Sahayata Yojana’ has been done away with.

The Division Bench comprised of Chief Justice D.N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh was hearing the plea alleging that the non-PDS guidelines, issued by the Delhi Government in the month of May this year, has placed an arbitrary cap on the maximum number of beneficiaries who could avail the benefit under the said scheme. 

The Delhi Government has filed its response in compliance of the order dated June 25, 2021, wherein it is stated that the Delhi Cabinet’s decision dated May 25, 2021, to distribute food grains to 20 lakh non-PDS beneficiaries who did not possess ration cards, including migrant and unorganized workers, was in addition to food grains being provided free of cost to 73 lakh PDS beneficiaries under regular allocation under the National Food Security Act, 2013.

It is pointed out in the affidavit that the figure was fixed on the basis of estimated population depending upon the total workforce of migrant workers in the national capital as issued by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics in the Delhi Statistical Handbook, 2020. 

“The Department on the basis of broad estimate and considering the population decided to provide food grains for 20 lakh Non-PDS beneficiaries at the first instance through Cabinet Decision No. 3004 dated 25.05.2021 as an immediate relief so as to ensure that no one in the city sleeps hungry,” reads the affidavit, while contending that the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, though was virulent and harsher than the first wave, did not witness a mass movement of migrants as significant as last year’s. 

The ruling Government has drawn the attention of the Court on the Cabinet decision dated July 9, 2021, wherein it was decided to distribute food grains to additional 10 lakh non-PDS beneficiaries from the 282 designated centres. 

Subsequently, the process of ‘one-time relief measure’ for distribution of food grains to the beneficiaries has also been decided to be discontinued and rather, now the distribution of food grains to the Non-PDS beneficiaries will be need-based till the Covid-19 pandemic continues. The decision has been taken in light of the slew of directions issued by the Apex Court on June 29, 2021, in a suo motu case titled “In Re: Problems and Miseries of Migrant Labourers” dealing with the problems and miseries of migrant labourers who had been stranded in different parts of the country amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which was tagged along with the case titled“Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India & Ors.”.

In light of the averments made in the counter-affidavit, Delhi Government’s Additional Standing Counsel Anuj Aggarwal, urged the Bench to dispose of the instant petition as all the issues raised in the petition stands addressed.

Advocate Prasanna S, representing the petitioner organisation, alleged that though the Delhi Government has stated that the cap put on the number of beneficiaries that could avail the benefit of the scheme has been done away with, yet the stock availability at designated centres is extremely low.

The Delhi Legal Service Authority’s Member Secretary, Kanwal Jeet Arora, who was directed by the Court to file a Status Report indicating whether there is any need to continue providing dry ration to the non-PDS beneficiaries as also providing cooked food to those who are using night shelters provided by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board. He submitted that the Authority conducted surprise checks in hunger relief camps setup by the Delhi Government to deal with the problems faced by the migrant workers in the wake of the pandemic, and found that these camps were supplied with adequate ration stocks.

He, however, brought to the notice of the Bench the fact that surprise checks could not be conducted in respect of distribution of ration to non-PDS beneficiaries, on the ground that the petition has failed to highlight specific instances or areas where such persons are located.

The Bench, while expressing an intention to bring this matter to an end, directed the Delhi Government to file a short written submission indicating the work done by the Government so far as also the ‘future roadmap’ for providing dry ration/cooked food to the needy.

An intervention application is filed by Delhi Ration Dealer’s Union, seeking modification of an order passed by the Delhi High Court in April last year, whereby all the fair price/ ration shop owners were directed to remain their shops open for all seven days of the week. It is alleged in the application that even now the Government is not permitting the fair price shop owners or ration shop owners to observe a weekly holiday, despite the pandemic situation being not as grave as was prevailing at the time when the order was passed. 

The Bench allowed the intervention application, andmodified the order dated April 27, 2020, to the effect thatthe fair price shops will have one weekly holiday in accordance with law.

The matter is adjourned to October 22, 2021. 

The Vacation Bench comprising Justice Anup J. Bhambhani and Justice Jasmeet Singh had, on June 25 this year, termed the Delhi Government’s decision to cap the number of beneficiaries to 20 lakhs as ‘arbitrary’ and ‘ad-hoc’. The Court, however, observed that it must exercise judicial restraint and await the decision of the Delhi Cabinet in revising the number of non-PDS beneficiaries under the scheme.

Filed by the NGO Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan, through Advocate Prasanna S, the plea seeks modification of the non-PDS Guidelines, providing food grains to people without ration cards under the Mukhya Mantri Corona Sahayata Yojana, dated May 27’ 2021 issued by the Delhi Government, to the extent that it prescribes an arbitrary cap of 20 Lakh on the number of non-PDS beneficiaries. The plea further seeks modification of the direction that the scheme is a “one-time relief measure”./ILNS/KR/SNG

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