Delhi HC reserves judgment in challenge to ration plan
The Delhi high court on Monday reserved its judgment on a plea by the Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers Sangh challenging the doorstep ration delivery scheme of the Delhi government even as it questioned the latter as to how the proposed scheme is better at preventing corruption in distribution of food grains, when compared to the existing programme.
“You are painting the whole community of Fair Price Shops (FPS) with the same brush. Are they all corrupt? As per the LG, you are only replacing one set of people with another. So how will you ensure these new people are not corrupt? Are these people from across the planet?” a bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh observed.
The court said that it is only trying to ascertain the rationale behind the proposed scheme, and that its queries may not have a bearing on the legality of the scheme. It also asked as to why the proposed safeguards such as geo positioning, bio-metric verification and iris scanning cannot be introduced to the current system of ration delivery.
Appearing for the Delhi government, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, told the court that it does not claim that the scheme would ensure complete sanitisation of the system.
“There will be some leakage, but I am entitled to change the system to an extent where this leakage is minimised. My rectification will make it significantly better. In any case, I am entitled to change the policy even if there will be leakage in it. There is no prohibition in the National Food Security Act (NFSA),” Singhvi argued.
Advocate Asmita Singh, also for the Delhi government, told the court that the safeguard of verification was introduced at FPS, however, it was misused and legal action has been initiated against many operators.
To this the bench said, “So law will take its course. Whosoever is found to be indulging in any irregularity, can be proceeded against...this could happen with your new bidder also.. On what basis are you claiming minimised corruption? They are also human beings only, of Indian origin, sharing same gene pool...”
Appearing for the ration dealers, advocate Visheshwar Shrivastava, told the court that there are a lot of checks and balances in the National Food Security Act, and in case a person is found indulging in unlawful activities, his licence may be cancelled.
Shrivastava also told the court that Delhi government cannot be said to “state government” for the purposes of NFS Act, in a smuch as Section 2(22) defines State, in relation to Union territory, as its Administrator, in this case the LG. He added that in any case, the Delhi government is bound by the guidelines issued by the Union government.
He also pointed out that “Targeted Public Distribution System” under the NFSA means the system for distribution essential commodities to the ration card holders “through fair price shops”.
The court did not fix the next date of hearing.
The court is hearing a plea by the Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers Sangh, a group of FPS owners, in which they have challenged the doorstep ration delivery scheme and demanded that it should be declared ultra vires (beyond one’s legal power or authority).
The scheme has become a flashpoint between the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government and the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi, with the former saying that the plan violates the provisions of NFSA and will deprive migrants of foodgrains, and the latter pointing out that it will root out the ration mafia and ensure that all beneficiaries get their ration.
On November 15, the Supreme Court declined to entertain two separate petitions (one by the Centre and another by FPS owners) against a Delhi high court interim order on September 27 that allowed the AAP government to stop supplying foodgrain to fixed price shops for patrons who have chosen doorstep delivery over physical collection of ration. The high court interim order also effectively gave a go-ahead to the state government scheme.