Delhi High Court’s directions to ensure food security during Covid-19 crisis

A Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyaan (DRRAA) note on the Delhi High Court’s directions to ensure food security during Covid-19 crisis following the hearing of a (DRRAA) case held on June 11, 2020:

The petition filed by the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyaan (DRRAA) regarding ensuring food security during the Covid-19 lockdown was heard in the Delhi High Court on June 11, 2020 (yesterday) by a bench comprising Justices Hima Kohli and S Prasad. DRRAA had filed a petition in April 2020 in an ongoing case regarding implementation of the National Food Security Act highlighting the acute vulnerability of the poor and marginalised during the lockdown and the need to ensure access to food for people to prevent starvation. The petition stated:

“The lockdown has led to large scale and sudden loss of livelihood of workers in the informal sector, daily wagers, self-employed persons working as plumbers, carpenters, rickshaw pullers, street hawkers etc. and has plunged lakhs of people into food insecurity and hunger. The various food programs under the NFSA are the only life-line for large number of persons and families in Delhi and therefore, it is crucial that these work properly to ensure that every person is able to access the fundamental right to food.”

During the hearing on June 11, the HC was apprised of the issues faced by people in accessing rations. DRRAA highlighted that there was an inordinate delay in the generation of e-coupons by the Delhi government and several people who had applied for e-coupons in April and early May had not yet received the coupons or the rations. The Delhi government has set up the e-coupon system for people not covered under the Public Distribution System (PDS covers 71.3 lakh people or 37% population of Delhi).

Further, it was highlighted that the government appeared to be following a pre-fixed quota system for e-coupons which was a violation of the HC’s directions. Upon applying for an e-coupon, applicants receive a message stating that “Registration of e-coupons for 38 lakh non-ration card holders is now closed. You will be notified if and when your application is processed, depending on availability.” 

In its order, the HC noted the statement of the Delhi government that expeditious steps are being taken to exhaust the list of 38 lakhs non-PDS applicants and efforts shall be made in the month of June, 2020 itself to meet the additional requests that are being received.

The e-coupon system vide which foodgrains and other essential items are provided to those not covered under PDS was initially only for the month of April 2020. As a result of the directions of the court on the DRRAA petition, the scheme has been extended for May and continues to remain open in June ensuring that lakhs of non-PDS persons are able to avail of rations.
The High Court disposed the petition while directing SDMs to carry out surprise checks of ration shops and also granting liberty to DRRAA to approach the courts in case of any non-compliance with its orders.

During the course of this petition, the Delhi High Court gave several important directions to secure peoples’ right to food and ensure no one goes hungry to bed in Delhi. The progressive stance of the High Court was key in mitigating the hardships faced by people in terms of accessing rations. It stands as one of the most important interventions by the judiciary on food security during the Coronavirus pandemic. The key directions of the Delhi HC in this case are summarised below:

Universal food security

The court directed the Delhi government to ensure that food grains are distributed to all the poor, needy and marginalized persons irrespective of whether they have ration cards and covered under the Public Distribution System. Further on May 28, taking into account the hardships and challenges faced by people in applying online for e-coupon system set up by Delhi government for non-PDS persons to avail of ration, the Delhi HC directed that help-desks should be set up at all the 588 designated schools from where ration is being distributed to assist people in applying for e-coupons. The HC also directed that all pending applications for e-coupons (17 lakh) must be provided ration without any further loss of time. On June 11, the court noted the submission of the Delhi government that the e-coupon system will be kept open for June and all existing and new applicants would be provided rations.

Proper functioning of ration shops

The HC directed the government to ensure that all ration shops remain operational during working hours from 9 am -1 pm and 3 pm-7 pm on all seven days to disburse grains as per policies formulated by Central and Delhi governments. SDMs of each district were directed to carry out monitoring and oversight of distribution of foodgrains. On May 28, the HC further directed that Food Inspectors shall conduct regular inspections of the shops and the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) would also be involved in monitoring the functioning of ration distribution. On June 11, the HC directed SDMs to carry out surprise checks of ration shops.

Transparency & Grievance Redress

Taking note of the urgent need to ensure timely disposal of complaints regarding denial of access to foodgrains, the HC directed the government to place on its website, the grievance helpline numbers and contact details of nodal officers so as to enable members of the public to seek redress for their grievances and the Nodal Officers shall address the grievances so received and respond to the persons aggrieved, by placing on the official website the action taken by them in that behalf. Further, on May 28 after several unsuccessful attempts at connecting to the helplines, the HC directed that the number of operators of these helplines should be increased from 6 to 22. Also, the government was directed to ensure that the figures relating to the number of complaints received on the helplines are put up on the website with a column indicating as to whether the grievance raised was redressed within 24 hours.

Free grinding of wheat grain

On May 28, the HC directed the Delhi Government to ensure that adequate number of aata chakkies are identified in each district where the non-PDS beneficiaries can go for getting the grain received grounded into flour, without making any payment.
The Delhi government has issued several orders to comply with the afore-mentioned directions of the Delhi High Court. These can be accessed on the Covid-19 tab of the website of the Department of Food, government of Delhi.
The DRRAA was represented by senior advocate Mr. Sanjay Parikh and Mr. Prasanna.

DRRAA will continue to undertake monitoring of ration distribution in Delhi and engaging with the government to ensure peoples right to food security during this unprecedented crisis caused due to the pandemic. It is a matter of grave concern that the additional rations announced by the Central Government under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (5 kgs free extra ration for ration cardholders) and the Atma Nirbhar Scheme (rations for 8 crore migrant workers not covered under PDS) and the Delhi government’s e-coupon system will come to an end in June. While the lockdown by the central government has been lifted, people continue to face extreme economic hardships and hunger due to loss of wages and livelihoods. Daily wagers, labourers, workers are the backbone of the city and the state is duty bound to ensure a life of dignity for all.

The filings and orders of the HC in the case can be accessed here

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