New Delhi, Jun 28 (ILNS) The Delhi High Court, in a plea challenging the non-PDS guidelines issued by the Delhi Government capping the maximum number of beneficiaries who could avail the benefit under the scheme guidelines, has expressed confidence that the government will rise up to its responsibility of providing adequate food grain to the requisite number of beneficiaries.
A Vacation Division Bench comprising Justice Anup J Bhambhani and Justice Jasmeet Singh noted on Friday, “On point of policy, we are prima facie of the view that to cap the number of non-PDS beneficiaries to 20 lakh appears to be an arbitrary and ad-hoc figure.”
Trideep Pais, senior counsel for the applicant, pointed out that in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government provided dry ration to 69.6 lakh non-PDS beneficiaries over and above 73 lakh PDS beneficiaries.
He submitted that despite the second wave of the pandemic being equally virulent and harsh with arguably an even greater impact on the economic and financial well-being of the residents of Delhi, the act of the Delhi Government in capping the number of beneficiaries under the non-PDS scheme to 20 lakh smacks of arbitrariness.
He further submitted that the scheme has also been referred to as a one-time relief measure, which would serve no purpose as the impact of the pandemic is ongoing, with there being a possibility of a third wave.
Mr. Anuj Aggarwal, ASC appearing on behalf of the Delhi Government, submitted that the decision to place the cap on the number of non-PDS beneficiaries was taken by the Delhi Cabinet in lieu of the fact that the situation during the first wave of the pandemic was much grave and a large number of migrant workers were stranded on roads and needed to be fed. Furthermore, he pointed out that it is a matter of public knowledge that now the lockdown has been revoked to a great extent and the consequences are also easing out.
The court raised a query as to the population of Delhi, which Advocate Aggarwal submitted is about two crore, of which many are not even permanent residents of Delhi. “To say that there are only about 20 lakh non-PDS beneficiaries looking for being provided food grain, which is the States’s responsibility under National Food Security Act, 2013, is a substantial under-estimation,” the Bench remarked.
Mr. Aggarwal further submitted that the Delhi Cabinet is conscious of this issue and may consider to review its decision of placing the cap on the non-PDS beneficiaries. In this regard, the court 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. The court further expressed confidence that the government will rise up to its responsibility of providing adequate food grains to the people especially in the extenuating circumstances which several residents of Delhi find themselves in.
The plea has been filed by NGO Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan, through Advocate Prasanna S, seeking 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 Government of NCT of Delhi, to the extent that it prescribes an arbitrary cap of 20 Lakh on the number of non-PDS beneficiaries.
The plea further sought modification of the direction that the scheme is a “one-time relief measure”. The matter will now be taken up on July 9, 2021. ILNS/BG/RJ