New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Monday directed the Delhi government to ensure that all ration shops disbursing foodgrain remain open during working hours and grains are even disbursed to those not in possession of ration cards. Hearing a petition filed by a food rights group, the court also directed that monitoring of the distribution be done through the concerned sub divisional magistrates and the details of rations disbursed be uploaded the same day.
The directions by a bench comprising of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Talwant Singh came in response to a petition filed by the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan. The court also instructed the Delhi Government to publicise the compliance in relation to the directions via both print and electronic media on a daily basis and to put on its website the grievance helpline numbers so that people may be able to lodge their complaints forthwith. It also gave the Delhi government three days file a status report.
Promised rations not being delivered
In its petition, the Abhiyan – which conducted several surveys of ration shops around the capital city to see if fair price shops were working properly while the poor were facing grave economic hardship due to the COVID-19-induced lockdown – had placed before the court its findings on how people were not getting their share of promised rations. Both the Delhi and central governments had announced additional free ration for people in view of the lockdown.
The petition put forth the ground reality about ration shops and pressed for the need to ensure effective and time-bound redressal to complaints regarding the supply of ration. It also said that there was an urgent need for transparency in the distribution of foodgrain through the Public Distribution System (PDS) and other mechanisms like e-coupons to ensure that people did not go hungry during the lockdown.
The proper functioning of the food distribution system is more important than ever before as lakhs of people in Delhi have lost their livelihood due to the sudden lockdown and are unable to afford even one meal in a day, the Abhiyan said.
Many ration shops shut, out of stock
The petition told the high court how, during the course of its survey, when team members visited rations shops, they found that in many places either the shops were shut or people were being turned away on the pretext that the stock of foodgrain had been exhausted. The volunteers of the campaign were also able to locate many who had not received their rations for the month.
In the absence of any information in the public domain about the distribution of ration in terms of who all had availed the stipulated quantity, the petition further stated that there was no way to determine whether stocks of ration were provided to the intended persons or whether the foodgrains had been diverted elsewhere.
No statutory grievance framework despite court orders
The petition also noted that despite repeated orders by the high court, the Delhi government had failed to institute a statutory grievance redress framework as a result of which there were no hearings about complaints regarding the denial of food. The petition also demanded that the government restart the mid-day meal scheme and argued that it was a lifeline for children even during regular times.
The Abhiyan also told the court how it had made several representations in the past to the Delhi government to seek the urgent universalisation of the public distribution system to ensure that all those in need of rations were able to access them irrespective of whether they had a card or not.
Hearing the plea, Justice Mridul observed that any person who is hungry should be eligible for grain. He also insisted that those who were not in dire need, should not leave their homes to stand in queues at ration shops. The case will next be taken up for hearing on May 6.