New Delhi, Mar 17 (ILNS) The Central government today told the Supreme Court that they have never denied the right to food to anyone and if Aadhar Card was not available with a person, he can submit alternative documents for availing the benefits of ration card.
Appearing on behalf of the Union government, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aman Lekhi gave this reply, after the apex court sought the response of the Centre on a plea regarding the cancellation of three crore Aadhaar cards across the country, leading to alleged denial of rations, and consequently, starvation deaths.
Initially, the Bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian was hesitant to entertain the plea, stating that the issue could be heard by respective High Courts.
However, Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that the Aadhaar cards were cancelled at the Central level. “More than three crore cards were cancelled at the Central level. In every state, 10 to 15 lakh cards were cancelled. There were situations, where fingerprints or iris scanner did not work in tribal areas,” said Mr Gonsalves.
Petitioner Koili Devi is the mother of 11-year-old Santoshi Kumari, who died on September 28, 2017, after allegedly starving for four days because her family was struck off the government welfare rolls for not linking their ration card with Aadhaar.
ASG Lekhi opposed the plea, stating, “It is all over the place. There is grievance redressal under the Food Security Act. The plea is misconceived. If Aadhaar is not available, alternative documents can be submitted. This point has not been argued. We have clearly said Aadhaar or no Aadhaar, it will not deny the right to food.”
After hearing the counsel, CJI Bobde noted that it “was a serious issue” and thus, would be listed for hearing after four weeks.
“The matter is too serious. We have to hear it. We expect you not to treat it as adversarial,” the CJI told the ASG.
In February last year, the Centre had denied allegations of starvation deaths in Jharkhand and arbitrary cancellation of nearly three crore ration cards of poor people across the country.
Attorney General KK Venugopal had to intervene when Mr Gonsalves, appearing in a petition, alleged starvation deaths following denial of food in the absence of Aadhaar card.
Citing the response of Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan in Parliament, Mr Gonslaves said that 2.33 crore ration cards have been cancelled to stop leakages.
The Centre had referred to Section 40 of the Act that mandates every state government to have internal grievance redressal mechanism or nodal officers for effective and expeditious redressal of food grievance. ILNS/JR