Delhi High Court terms cap of 20 lakh people for distribution of Non-PDS ration as 'arbitrary' and 'ad-hoc'

The Court, however, restrained from passing any order after the Delhi government informed that a review of the cap was underway.

The Delhi High Court on Friday observed that the Delhi Government's decision to cap the number of non-PDS beneficiaries at 20 Lakh was 'arbitrary', 'ad-hoc' and also inadequate in the given circumstances of an impending third wave of COVID-19 (Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan v. Union of India).

A vacation bench of Justices Anup Bhambhani and Jasmeet Singh of the Delhi High Court heard the petition filed by the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan (DRRAA) challenging the guidelines issued by the Delhi Government for distribution of ration to people without ration cards or 'Non PDS Beneficiaries'.

The Delhi High Court issued notice to the respondents and directed the Delhi government to file a fresh affidavit, listing the matter for hearing on July 9, 2021.

According to the Delhi Government's guidelines, people without ration cards are entitled to receive 5 kg of ration from any of the 282 schools designated as distribution centres.

These guidelines have been challenged to the extent that they cap the maximum number of beneficiaries at 20 lakh and restrict the ration only as a one time relief of 5 kg per person.

In the earlier reply affidavit filed by the Delhi government, it was claimed that as of June 23, 2021,about 15.5 lakh out of 20 lakh people had already availed the rations under the guidelines

Advocate Trideep Pais, appearing for for DRRAA submitted that the limit of 20 lakh is likely to hit soon after which people in need will have no access to rations.

In this matter, the Delhi High Court took cognizance of the issues highlighted by DRRAA and observed that capping of non-PDS beneficiaries to 20 Lakh was 'arbitrary' and also extremely 'inadequate' on grounds of being a one-time measure during the pandemic.

"Even if one person goes hungry, it's a failure of the scheme. How did you come to this absurd figure of 20 lakh," Justice Singh said.

In its order the Delhi High Court said,

"In act that smacks of arbitrariness, a notification was put out by the Delhi Government capping the number of non-PDS beneficiaries to 20 lakh.

Advocate Trideep Pais on behalf of the DRRAA points that despite the second wave being equally virulent, harsh and with an even greater impact on the economic and financial well-being of the residents of Delhi the government put this cap. He also points out that during the first wave, as per data available, more than 69 Lakh beneficiaries were awarded ration kits."

Advocate Anuj Aggarwal, appearing on behalf of the Delhi Government, submitted the Delhi Government does not consider the present application as an adversarial matter.

He also submitted that the Delhi Cabinet took a decision to place a cap on non-PDS Beneficiaries since there are a large number of migrant workers stranded in Delhi, which wasn't the case during the second wave.

"Nevertheless, out of 20 lakh non-PDS beneficiaries, provisions for whom had been made by the Delhi Government, only 15 Lakh people availed the ration," Aggarwal said.

Without delving into the nitty-gritties, even on a broad-brush basis, the Court was of the view that to say that 20 Lakh figure was a substantial underestimation and that it was the State's responsibility to provide the beneficiaries with ration under the National Food Security Act 2013.

Advocate Aggarwal added that he had received instructions to say that the Delhi Cabinet is already conscious of the issue and a review of the cap placed on non-PDS beneficiaries is underway.

The bench of Justices Anup Bhambhani and Jasmeet Singh, therefore, said that it must exercise judicial restraint for now.

"The Court must exercise judicial restraint and await appropriate action by the government. We say nothing more than to express our confidence that the government will rise up to its responsibility of providing adequate food grain to a requisite number of beneficiaries under the PDS Scheme.

Accordingly, let an additional affidavit be filed by the Delhi Government and send an advanced copy to the opposing counsel," the order said.

The Court expressed hope that the Delhi cabinet would reconsider the decision.

"We are also not sure whether the timing of this as a one time measure would serve the needy and would expect the Delhi Cabinet to reconsider," the Court said.

DRRAA was represented by senior counsel Trideep Pais, and advocates Prasanna S and Mihir Samson. The Delhi Government was represented by its Additional Standing Counsel, Anuj Aggarwal and advocate Zoheb Hossain.

The matter will be heard next on July 9,2021.

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