Noting that a 2018 state resolution continues to entitle Non-NFSA APL-1 families to free ration and grocery on the basis of 13 documentary proofs of identification, the Gujarat High Court on Monday disposed of a PIL praying that the April 11 Notification of the Food and Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs Department, placing a mandatory requirement of producing Aadhaar Card for the purpose of availing free distribution, be set aside.
The Division Bench observed that the Notification in question contemplates a policy decision for distribution of free ration and grocery to Non-NFSA (National Food Security Act) APL-1 (Above Poverty Line) category persons, in order to facilitate this class to get the essential commodities-grains etc "during the present crisis period when the country and the State has been facing lockdown due to which public distribution has also suffered leaving the needy class of the society with serious hardships in getting the essential commodities-groceries and grains".
In the said Notification, it was contemplated inter alia that the distribution of free grocery would be allowed only on production of Aadhaar Card by the intended beneficiary and that no other identification would be treated as valid for being eligible for obtaining the benefit. The petitioner had urged before the concerned Executive Magistrate that insistence on Aadhaar Card only as compulsory identification for getting the benefit, to the exclusion of other valid identifications, would be self-defeating to the purpose and that it would lead to greater hardships and injustice, he was told that since no other instructions were given, production of AadhAar Card would be mandatory for getting grocery by the citizen beneficiary.
Contending that "the prescription by the State authorities to insist for the Aadhaar Card only and no other identification, for getting the benefit under the Notification would stand in violation of fundamental rights of the people", the public interest petitioner moved the High Court seeking to set aside the said condition in the Notification and to permit the citizens to provide other identify proofs as well.
The argument canvassed was that when the benevolent scheme of distribution of free grocery to the needy designated class is during the hard pressed times of outbreak of Corona Virus (COVID-19), it would be arbitrary and against the equality principle to insist for Aadhaar Card only, to the exclusion of other valid identification proofs. It was submitted that such solitary prescription would be self-defeating to the purpose sought to be achieved, as all needy may not possess the Aadhaar Card.
Before the Court, the government pleader submitted that under the April 11 notification, the distribution of essential groceries is by two modes-online and offline. By way of online mode, the credentials of the beneficiaries are verified by using biometrics, that is thumb prints, whereas the offline mode pertained to the distribution of ration by maintaining a physical register. The offline mode is used for distribution where beneficiary is not having the biometric details or due to infrastructural bottlenecks, and the other mode is not feasible for the policy decision in question.
The Bench recorded that "the State had already passed a Resolution dated 01 March, 2018 which continues to apply to Non-NFSA APL-1 families and that it has been unequivocally stated therein that the distribution shall be permitted on the basis of 13 documentary proofs of identification". On behalf of the State authorities, it was stated before the Court that the following 13 documentary proof could be accepted as valid identification in the event of non-availability of Aadhaar Card-(i) Election Card, (ii) PAN Card, (iii) Driving License,(iv) Photograph along with Bank Passbook, (v) Passport, (vi) NREGA Card, (vii) Farmer Passbook (with Photo and Name), (viii) Identification cards issued by the Mamlatdar, (ix) Identification cards issued by Gazetted Officer, (x) Identification card given by Postal Department (with Photo and Name), (xi) LPG Book/Number, (xii) Certificate by educational institution/birth certificate and (xiii) Any other card that may be notified by the State Government.
In view of above, the Court therefore decided it is not required to go into the merits of the petition. "Appreciating the response of the respondent-State and thereupon observing that the respondent-State authorities shall abide by and implement their stand and the statement in the subject as mentioned above by learned Government Pleader", the petition was disposed off as not surviving.
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