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
"....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".
"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"
"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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