High court directs Kejriwal government to ensure no one goes hungry to bed in Delhi


By Abdul Bari Masoud

New Delhi:  In a major relief to nearly 40lakh non-ration card holders in the national capital, the Delhi High Court on Thursday directed the Delhi government-led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to ensure food security during the ongoing Covid-19 induced lockdown. The Court gave several important directions to secure peoples’ right to food and ensure no one goes hungry to bed in Delhi.

The court order will provide relief to nearly 40 lakh people who do not possess ration cards and plunged into food insecurity and hunger due to the abrupt announcement of lockdown as most of lost their livelihoods.

A High Court Bench comprising Justices Hima Kohli and S. Prasad gave the order on a petition filed by an NGO, Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyaan  (DRRAA) which sought court’s directions in ensuring  food security for those people who faced hardships in terms of accessing rations. The court also  granted liberty to DRRAA to approach the courts in case of any non-compliance with its orders.

The petition was  filed in April 2020 in an ongoing case regarding implementation of the National Food Security Act highlighting the acute vulnerability of the poor and marginalised during the lockdown and the need to ensure access to food for people to prevent starvation.

The petition stated:

“The lockdown has led to large scale and sudden loss of livelihood of workers in the informal sector, daily wagers, self-employed persons working as plumbers, carpenters, rickshaw pullers, street hawkers etc. and has plunged lakhs of people into food insecurity and hunger. The various food programs under the NFSA are the only life-line for large number of persons and families in Delhi and therefore, it is crucial that these work properly to ensure that every person is able to access the fundamental right to food.”

During the hearing,  the HC was apprised of the issues faced by people in accessing rations.

Activist Anjali Bhardawaj said  DRRAA highlighted that there was an inordinate delay in the generation of e-coupons by the Delhi government and several people who had applied for e-coupons in April and early May had not yet received the coupons or the rations.

The Delhi government has set up the e-coupon system for people not covered under the Public Distribution System (PDS covers 71.3 lakh people or 37% population of Delhi).

Further, it was highlighted that the government appeared to be following a pre-fixed quota system for e-coupons which was a violation of the HC’s directions.

Upon applying for an e-coupon, applicants receive a message stating that “Registration of e-coupons for 38 lakh non-ration card holders is now closed. You will be notified if and when your application is processed, depending on availability.”

In its order, the HC noted the statement of the Delhi government that expeditious steps are being taken to exhaust the list of 38 lakhs non-PDS applicants and efforts shall be made in the month of June, 2020 itself to meet the additional requests that are being received.

The e-coupon system vide which foodgrains and other essential items are provided to those not covered under PDS was initially only for the month of April 2020. As a result of the directions of the court on the DRRAA petition, the scheme has been extended for May and continues to remain open in June ensuring that lakhs of non-PDS persons are able to avail of rations.

She said the court   directed SDMs to carry out surprise checks of ration shops and also granted liberty to DRRAA to approach the courts in case of any non-compliance with its orders.

The progressive stance of the High Court was key in mitigating the hardships faced by people in terms of accessing rations and stands as one of the most important interventions by the judiciary on food security during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The key directions of the Delhi HC in this case are summarised below:

  1. Universal food security

The court directed the Delhi government to ensure that food grains are distributed to all the poor, needy and marginalized persons irrespective of whether they have ration cards and covered under the Public Distribution System.

  1. Proper functioning of ration shops

The HC directed the government to ensure that all ration shops remain operational during working hours from 9 am -1 pm and 3 pm-7 pm on all seven days to disburse grains as per policies formulated by Central and Delhi governments. SDMs of each district were directed to carry out monitoring and oversight of distribution of foodgrains.

  1. Transparency & Grievance Redress

Taking note of the urgent need to ensure timely disposal of complaints regarding denial of access to foodgrains, the HC directed the government to place on its website, the grievance helpline numbers and contact details of nodal officers so as to enable members of the public to seek redress for their grievances and the Nodal Officers shall address the grievances so received and respond to the persons aggrieved, by placing on the official website the action taken by them in that behalf.


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