Denial of rations to BPL people denial of Right to Food, Right to Life: Delhi HC
In another landmark interim order, Justice S Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court reinforced the need for increased delivery and oversight of life-saving food and maternal health entitlements to the vulnerable populations in the Nation’s Capital. The petition, Premlata w/o Ram Sagar & Ors. v. Govt. of NCT Delhi, W.P. Civ. 7687/2010, involves six destitute pregnant and lactating women who reside in Nangloi, a western slum of Delhi, and have been denied food rations and reproductive and child health benefits since at least August 2009. During the pendency of litigation, numerous issues were brought to the Court’s attention underlining serious problems with issuance and renewal of ration cards and delivery of health benefits under the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) and National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS). Petitioners also placed on record a copy of the Samajik Suvidha Sangam Survey commissioned by the Delhi Government showing that 55 percent of Delhi's poor and vulnerable populations remain “un-carded", i.e. without a ration card. Numerous interim orders have directed the Delhi Government to conduct “camps” where aggrieved card holders have had their ration cards sorted and reauthorized, increase monitoring and delivery of rations to Fair Price Shops, constitute a grievance redressal hotline, and ensure functionality of vigilance committee. The Union of India has also been ordered to pay Rs 5,000 to each of the Petitioners for delay in payment of financial assistance under NMBS. During the last hearing, when questioned as to the present procedure for issuing new BPL applications, the Government acknowledged that 'no fresh BPL cards' are being issued by the Food & Supplies Department due to a 'maximum limit of BPL cards' fixed by a decision of the Union of India and Cabinet of Government of Delhi. Taking cognizance of this action as inherently unconstitutional, the Court stated: “10. This Court is unable to appreciate how the Capital city of Delhi, with a growing population and constant influx of a large number of migrants can abide by a ‘cap’ on BPL cards. With growing persons in need of BPL cards, there cannot be any ‘caps’ imposed by the Central Government/Planning Commission which disables the GNCTD from proceeding to issue fresh BPL cards. Denial of a rational card to a BPL person is virtually a denial of his or her right to food and thereby the right to life under the Article 21 of the Constitution.” The Delhi Government and Union of India were ordered to jointly meet within four weeks time to resolve the denial of fresh BPL cards for eligible persons. The Court further expressed concern "that apart from the Petitioners who have approached this Court there could be many others similarly placed in need of redress" and ordered a government official be appointed to address all remaining grievances within the community. The matter is next listed for 27th July, 2011. Premlata holds great promise in ensuring a more transparent and efficient delivery system of rations to India's poor, and reinforce the life-saving link between access to food and reproductive health and safe motherhood. A copy of the 13.05.11 order is attached.