The Delhi High Court has observed that a person's right to dignity and privacy is not offended merely because such a person may be required to queue up at a fair price shop outlet.
The observation was made by a division bench comprising of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Jasmeet Singh while setting aside the Delhi government's scheme for doorstep delivery of ration. The Court quashed the three tenders issued by the State Government in respect of the said scheme.
The development came after the Court rejected the arguments made on behalf of the intervenor, Bandhua Mukti Morcha which contended that it is against the right to dignity and privacy to compel beneficiaries under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) to queue up to collect their allocated rations from the Fair Price Shops.
"In our view, it is only civil that persons – who desire to obtain/ buy anything from an outlet, should queue up, if such a queue is necessary looking to the number of persons, who may land up at the outlet at the same time. It does not offend the right to dignity and privacy of any person, merely because the person may be required to queue up at the outlet. The outlet could be for anything, or for any service," the Court said.
It added "People queue up to buy medicines from a medical store; to buy milk at the milk booth; bus, train and airline tickets at bus stations, railway stations and airports; to buy cinema tickets at cinema houses; to buy tickets for sporting and other entertainment events at the venues, so on and so forth."
The Court said that if such submission is accepted, then it would mean that the right to dignity of such persons, who queue up, is violated.
"Acceptance of the submission would also mean that such persons have a right not to stand in a queue, or break of queue. Such a thought would destroy civility and orderly conduct and respect for others' rights in the society, which cannot be accepted. Reliance placed at K.S. Puttaswamy (Aadhaar-5J.) (supra) is also of no avail," the Court said.
The Court also rejected the submission that the delivery of food to the beneficiaries under the TPDS at the doorstep of the Fair Price Shops does not amount to a guarantee of adequate food and nutrition to the beneficiaries under Article 21 and 47 of the Constitution of India.
At the outset, the Court also observed that while there was nothing wrong in the Delhi Government entertaining the desire and intention to deliver packaged atta and rice to the beneficiaries under the TPDS at their doorstep, however it said that the same can be done only in accordance with the scheme of the National Food Security Act and the statutory orders under the Essential Commodities Act, and not otherwise.
Whether Delhi Government, in their endeavour to implement their scheme, could proceed to appoint new FPS owners or dealers by inviting tenders so as to by-pass the existing framework of FPS dealers?
Analyzing the legislative framework, the Court was of the view that that without addressing the concerns of the existing FPS owners with regard to their financial viability which was statutorily protected, the Delhi Government cannot proceed to implement the impugned Scheme as framed and envisaged.
The Court also noted the submission made by the Delhi Government qua suspension of the license of several FPS owners on account of black marketing of foodgrains by such identified FPS owners.
On this, the Court said "When there are above 2000 FPS owners spread across the NCT of Delhi, there are bound to be malpractices resorted to by some of them. In such individual cases, strict actions are called for and should be taken, and appear to have been taken, at least, in some of them. However, the issue is whether the GNCTD can paint all FPS owners with the same brush, unless there is germane and relevant material available and considered, and reach the general conclusion that all of them are indulging in corrupt practices and black marketing, and cite that as the reason for introduction of the impugned Scheme?"
The Bench however, made it clear that it was not giving a clean chit to any, or all of the fair price shop owners with regard to their business dealings, and that the said observations were made in the context of the petitioners' grievance that the generalized allegations made by the GNCTD were not substantiated.
"At the same time, we may observe, that even if the exiting TPDS were to work flawlessly, that would not debar the GNCTD from introducing the door-to-door delivery foodgrains to the beneficiaries, as we have already discussed hereinabove. The GNCTD can do it out of its own resources, while adequately addressing the concerns with regard to financial viability of the existing FPS owners/ dealers," it added.
The Court thus found that the impugned Scheme was in breach of the statutory protection afforded to the existing Fair Price Shop owners or licencees, and it was founded upon unsubstantiated generalized conclusion, that all Fair Price Shop owners or licencees are indulging in malpractices.
"No doubt, judicial review in matters of policy decisions of the Government is confined to a narrow sphere – as urged by Dr. Singhvi. It is not for the Courts to either frame the policy for the Government, or to evaluate its efficacy, or question the wisdom of the Government in not coming out with one, or the other, policy. However, that does not preclude the Court from examining issues with regard to competence, legality and constitutionality of the policy, or of any part thereof, if a challenge is raised to the same before the Court. Reliance placed by Dr. Singhvi on several orders taken note of in paragraph 119 hereinabove, are also of no avail for the aforesaid reason," the Court said.
Thus, concluding the judgment, the Bench also said that any such scheme framed by the GNCTD should comply with all the requirements of the National Food Security Act and the Orders issued under the Essential Commodities Act.
"The impugned scheme as presently framed by the Cabinet Decision No. 2987 on 24.03.2021, does not comply with the provisions of the NFSA and TPDS Order, 2015," the Court observed.
Case Title: DELHI SARKARI RATION DEALERS SANGH DELHI v. COMMISSIONER FOOD AND SUPPLIES GOVT OF NCT OF DELHI & ORS.
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Del) 472