Centre’s plea against Delhi govt’s ration plan declined
The Centre had moved the top court against an interim high court order allowing delhi govt to stop supplies to fps for patrons who chose ration’s home delivery
The Supreme Court on Monday declined to entertain two separate petitions against a Delhi high court interim order on September 27 that allowed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government to stop supplying foodgrain to fixed price shops for patrons who have chosen doorstep delivery over physical collection of ration.
The decision also effectively gave the go-ahead to a scheme over which the Union and Delhi governments have locked horns for over a year.
The top court was considering two separate appeals, filed by the Centre and the Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers Sangh, both aggrieved at the high court order.
“We are not inclined to entertain these special leave petitions (SLP) as we are informed that the writ petition before the high court is listed on November 22, and as both parties have agreed they will not seek an adjournment,” a bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai said.
The Centre, represented by solicitor general Tushar Mehta requested the apex court to record an undertaking from the Delhi government, that they will not implement the scheme in the meantime.
To this, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the state government, said, “There is no need to pass such an order. It is impossible to roll out the scheme in such short time. The preparation and implementation of the scheme is in progress.”
The bench said it will record this statement to dispose of the appeals.
The ration shop owners moved the court in February challenging the tenders issued for the doorstep delivery scheme. However, the petition was amended on March 18 to challenge the Delhi government’s doorstep delivery of ration scheme, with the association demanding that it should be declared ultra vires (beyond the scope of legal power).
On March 22, the court directed the Delhi government not to stop or curtail the supply of foodgrain or flour to the members of the petitioner association, for operationalising the doorstep delivery. However, the high court modified its order on September 27, allowing the government to stop supplying foodgrains to FPS to the extent of food grains for those who have chosen doorstep delivery over physical collection of ration.
This was after the Delhi government informed the high court that out of 7.2 million registered ration card holders in the Capital, over 6.9 million had availed of the doorstep delivery scheme.
Solicitor General Mehta on Monday argued in the Supreme Court that the delivery of foodgrain to the intended beneficiaries under the public distribution system (PDS) was envisaged only through fair price shops (FPS) as this process ensures checks against leakages through biometric authentication. “Is it open for any state to deviate from the statutorily prescribed method when the Union government has apprehensions that the foodgrains may not reach the beneficiaries,” he said, adding that this matter had “potential all-India repercussions”.
He clarified that he was not arguing for the FPS owners who filed a separate appeal and had earlier petitioned the HC.
Mehta argued that the scheme goes against the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme under which the entitlement can be availed by a beneficiary and his family at two places at the same time.
Singhvi rebutted Mehta’s claim, and said that Delhi government’s scheme fully complied with ONORC, and was fully computerised to enure proper delivery. He added that it was optional for the beneficiaries to collect ration from FPS on designated days. “Mandate under the NFSA is actual delivery, and if the state is ensuring it at zero cost, why should it be restricted. Unfortunately, politics is interfering in a matter of public interest. When everything is delivered at doorstep by Amazon, Flipkart, why not foodgrains?” Singhvi told the court.
He pointed out that the Centre appeared through law officers in the Delhi high court and did not object to the order (September 27 verdict).
The bench said that these issues were pending before the high court and asked the Centre to address its submissions there.
The Delhi government’s doorstep delivery of ration scheme was to be launched on March 25, but the Union food and consumer affairs ministry wrote to the Delhi government on March 19 raising two objections — the use of the term “mukhyamantri (chief minister)” for a scheme involving the distribution of food grains allocated under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), and that any change in the delivery mechanism requires an amendment in NSFA that can be done only by Parliament. The term “mukhyamantri” was later dropped from the scheme’s name.
In June, the government sent the file back to LG, contending that its provisions are in accordance with the NFS Act, and that it will simultaneously implement the Centre’s “One Nation, One Ration Card” scheme.
On October 5, after the high court’s order of September 27, the government sent the file again to the LG office. In a note on the file, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said he sincerely hoped that Baijal will review his decision to stop implementation of the doorstep delivery scheme, so that the orders of the high court can be implemented and doorstep delivery of ration can be processed for the beneficiaries opting it.