5 Nov 2021 2:29 PM GMT
Noting that several tribals were denied supplies under the Public Distribution System due to the non-linking of their Aadhar Cards, even as the fortunates eagerly awaited Diwali, the Bombay High Court ordered the Tehsildar of Murbad to distribute supplies to nearly 90 tribals by November 4. In an interim order, Justices Prasanna Varale and Madhav Jamdar observed no logic, reason...
In an interim order, Justices Prasanna Varale and Madhav Jamdar observed no logic, reason or rationale for denying the benefits of distribution of food grains under the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA) to the tribals on raising certain technical grounds.
The court ordered the distribution of food grains to tribal beneficiaries under NFSA and Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, after verifying their ration cards.
"It is a disheartening situation for us when we the fortunates are eagerly awaiting as the festive season is approaching and the festival of lights would spread joy and happiness in the society throughout the State or the whole nation, here are the few petitioners who are the members of the marginalised section in general and tribals in particular who have approached this Court on a grievance that they are deprived of the basic requirement of human life, i.e., food, only on account that the State machinery is not technically equipped to give them the benefits flowing from the scheme formulated and floated by the Union of India and to be implemented and executed by the respective States."
The State claimed that Aadhaar cards linked to a different place than the residence of these individuals were the reason behind non-distribution. However, the court noted that illiterate tribals approach ration shop owners to link their Aadhar cards to the portal.
"…if a mistake is committed by shop owner, the same cannot be the reason for denial of food grains to the ration cardholder under the benevolent schemes," the court noted.
State Can Also use ration Card to Identify Beneficiary
The State also cited a government circular from October 2013. According to the circular, the Aadhar of every family member in the ration card must be linked to the portal for the benefits of PDS.
However, the court observed that the requirements are in stark opposition to a central government notification dated February 8 2017, which clearly states that the Aadhaar Card is only one of the criteria for identifying the Beneficiary, not the sole criteria.
"There is another document on which the beneficiary can rely upon to receive the benefits of the scheme, and that is "ration card" issued by the State of Union Territory Administration, Food Department."
Even If One Member's Aadhar Linked, Entire Family Eligible for Food
The court observed that according to clause 5 of the centre's notification, any member of an eligible household listed in the ration card shall be entitled to receive the entire quantity of cash transfer or food subsidy under NFSA, if even one member fulfils the identification conditions, in case of Aadhaar number is not yet assigned to all.
The court relied on the Supreme Court's observations in K. S. Puttaswamy v/s. Union of India (2019) 1 SCC 1, popularly known as "Aadhaar Card Judgment." The court held that beneficial schemes are not charity or doles and that technology shall not be a rider to implement beneficial schemes.
"Our quest for technology should be oblivious to the country's real problems; social exclusion, impoverishment and marginalisation. The Aadhar project suffers from crucial design flaws which impact upon its structural probity. Structural design in delivering welfare entitlements must be compliant with structural due process, to be in accord with Articles 14 and 21," the court observed quoting the judgement.
Regarding the case at hand, the court said the beneficiaries were tribals, majority of them being illiterate. "As such, they rely on the action taken by the respective ration shop owner, and in such case, if a mistake is committed by shop owner, the same cannot be the reason for denial of food grains to the ration card holder under the benevolent schemes," the court said.
A social worker overlooking the case of the tribals told Live Law that over half of tribals in 22 sectors had received food grains. However, only the list of names provided to authorities was looked into.
"The court had ordered aide to be given to similarly placed tribals as well. However, that is yet to happen," the social worker said.
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