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MLA's Are Not Food Distributing Agents: Manipur HC Passes Slew Of Directions For Effective Implementation of PDS [Read Judgment]

Sanya Talwar
18 May 2020 12:44 PM GMT
MLAs Are Not Food Distributing Agents: Manipur HC Passes Slew Of Directions For  Effective Implementation of PDS [Read Judgment]
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The High Court of Manipur has issued a slew of directions in a PIL seeking necessary arrangements to ensure that extensive distribution of essential commodities is effectuated to the entire population and are available to the public at prices fixed by the Government. 

A division bench of Justices Lanusungkum Jamir & Nobin Singh directed that the state governments must ensure that all persons who are eligible households in terms of the National Food Security Act, 2013, including non-card holders are to be necessarily supplied with food grains vis-à-vis the Public Distribution System during the lockdown situation.

Court also came down heavily on the issue of political interference in this issue by MLA's who purchase the PDS grains for distribution to public and noted that the Act does not allow MLAs to do so.

"It is well known that MLAs being the representatives of the people, their role is significant and it is indubitably true that they do render important and valuable service for the welfare of the people. It is, however, nowhere contemplated in the Food Act, 2013 that MLAs shall be allowed or involved in the distribution of the PDS items" - Manipur HC

While taking note of the non-implementation of the Targeted Public Distribution System, the Court and noted that the provisions of the Food Act, 2013 are very "clear" and "unambiguous" which presupposes a duty on the Government to endure actual delivery and supply of food grains to entitled persons at fair and fixed prices, stipulated by the Government. 

"....the provisions of Section 24(2), it is the sole duty of the State Government to take delivery of foodgrains from the designated depots of the Central Government in the State, at the prices specified in the Schedule-I; to organize intra-state allocation for delivery of the allocated foodgrains through their authorized agencies at the door-step of each fair price shop and to ensure actual delivery or supply of the foodgrains to the entitled persons at the prices specified in the Schedule-I" - Manipur HC

Furthermore, the Court also made observations regarding the delegation of duties under the Targeted PDS stating that the Food Act, 2013 specifically designates state sanctioned distributors and that "If any person other than the State Government or the officer delegated with its power in this regard, does distribute or participate in the distribution of rice under the Targeted Public Distribution System, his action will be rendered illegal and liable to be punished in accordance with law".

Taking note of the issue of whether effective implementation of the Food Act, 2013 by the Central Government had been done, the court noted that "It is not clear as to whether the above exercises have been effectively carried out by the State Government or not and the materials placed on record by the State Government along with their affidavit are not sufficient to verify them".

1) Selection of Fair-price Shop Owners:
The bench observed that any person who is aggrieved by the Government Orders providing licence to the Fair-price shop owners may approach the appropriate fora, however the Government must introspect and re-look into the manner of their selection on the interest of public to avoid any untoward incidents such as the alleged non-distribution or distribution of less quantity of PDS.

2) MLA's as PDS agents:
The Court took note of the fact that the State Government did not have a systematic documentation system in the public domain regarding the PDS and that it was implicit that MLA's had purchased the food grains for distribution to the public. Taking strong note of the same, bench noted that it is "nowhere contemplated in the Food Act, 2013 that MLAs shall be allowed or involved in the distribution of the PDS items".

3) Mechanism to monitor distribution of PDS rice:
Court took note of the lack of a monitoring system to ensure proper distribution of PDS items and added,

"The State Government needs to take appropriate steps to ensure that the mechanism, put in place by it, becomes an effective one so that public may not have any grievance"

4) District-wise list of eligible households:
Court directed that a district-wise list of the eligible households must be uploaded by the concerned government authority on its official website within a week since passing of the instant judgement.

5) Government Authorities to notify and disseminate information:
All details regarding details of  authorized agencies like names and addresses etc. as defined in PDS (Control) Order, 2015 or the contractors through whom foodgrains will be lifted were directed to be published on the official government website.

6) Only authorised officials to distribute and lift food grains:
As delegated with the power by the State Government as provided in Section 35 of the Food Act, 2013 through the authorized agencies or the contractors whose names have been duly notified by the State Government, failing which he shall be responsible for it.

7) Fair price shop owners directed to maintain proper and extensive records along with forms of receipts:
Court directed that if any owner is found to not have maintained the requisite records, an enquiry may be conducted and immediate action must be taken, which includes the cancellation of licence.

8) Grievance Redressal for aggrieved person due to non-supply or supply of less quantity of PDS items:
Court directed that any aggrieved persons as aforementioned may approach any Legal Aid Clinic or the front office/the Secretary, District Legal Services Authority or the Member Secretary, Manipur Legal Services Authority for assistance towards lodging a complaint.

9) Government to persuade households who have stock of foodgrains to refuse relief:
Court noted,

"There are thousands of households which keep their paddy reserved for a year and in addition thereto, there are many Class-I officers, Income Tax Payees including contractors, businessmen etc. in the State. Keeping in mind the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis coming to an end in the near future, the State Government may identify them and persuade them to desist from accepting relief items free of cost so that the same can be given to the needy persons"

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