Taking Serious cognizance and note of issue of neglect and failure of State Govt. to implement NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY ACT, 2013 leading to unfortunate incident of STARVATION DEATH IN Tiroda Town in GONDIA DIST., raised in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) Petition filed by Kishore Tiwari, President Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, Nagpur Bench of High Court headed by Justice Shri Bhushan Gavai & Ms. Indu Jain today Ordered issue of Show Cause Notice to Principal Secretary – Food & Civil Supply to file detailed affidavit within 2 weeks.
The Public Interest Litigation is preferred by PIL Petitioner Kishore Tiwari pointing out gross negligence on the part of State to perform its statutory obligation of implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (“NFS Act” for short) in the State of Maharashtra in its letter & spirit in general and its failure of identification of the ‘eligible households’ and ‘priority households’ in the State of Maharashtra, though it was obligatory on the part of the State Government to identify the eligible households in accordance with the guidelines framed there under within a period of 365 days after the commencement of the Act i.e. from 10.09.2013 and upto 09.09.2014, shockingly till this date neither the guidelines are issued nor identification of eligible households is done. The further grievance of the PIL petitioner is the attempt of the respondent to reduce the quantity of food grains being supplied under Public Distribution System (“PDS” for short) thereby causing great hardship to the poorest of the poor as entire PDS has been greatly affected since last 1 year. On the contrary respondent is going ahead with the computerization of existing Ration Cards without undertaking the above mandatory exercise through impugned G.R. dated 11.03.2015 and unfortunate Act of reduction in quantity of food grains in under PDS.
The PIL petitioner Mr. Tiwari painfully drawn the kind attention of Hon’ble High Court towards most unfortunate incident of death of a household head Smt. Lalita Shivkumar Rangari, a Dalit Women, aged about 36 years, a widow mother of 2 children of which one is visually disabled R/o Jagjeevan Ram Ward at Tirora Dist. Gondia in the State of Maharashtra. Almost all newspapers, print media as well as electronic media / channels reported this shocking incident reportedly caused due to the reason of starvation mainly because of failure of the part of respondent in implementing PDS and to provide subsidized food grains to needy poor families.
PIL Petitioner Mr. Tiwari pointed out that the said report of starvation death is shocking and it is stigma on civilized society and thus is a matter of great concern for Petitioner as well as Citizen / public at large. The petitioner strongly felt that this unfortunate incident of starvation death could have been avoided if the respondent- State would have performed its obligation under NFS Act to identify the eligible households in accordance with the guidelines framed there under within a period of 365 days after the commencement of the Act i.e. from 10.09.2013 and up to 09.09.2014 and would have started distribution of food grains under PDS without reducing the admissible quantity to the needy poor families. Copies of the Press Cuttings are also annexed therewith the PIL.
As submitted in PIL that the petitioner is Citizen of India and he is qualified Graduate Mechanical Engineer having Post Graduate qualification in Public Administration, Law & Management. He is actively involved in the Social Service since 1995-96 and striving for the cause of up liftment & welfare of tribal, farmers & landless workers in rural parts of Vidarbha through his social activists Group/ organization – Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS). The Petitioner has raised many issues of public importance through various Public Interest Litigations (PIL) agitated before the Hon’ble High Court, NHRC, SHRC & other Commissions/ Bodies in the matter of Right to Life, Right to Food, Right to Shelter, Right to Environment, as pursued from time to time since last 20 years. Petitioner has also raised the issue of implementation of NFS Act & the PDS Control Order, 2001 in the interest of poorest of the poors. The petitioner is also actually pursuing the non adversely causes of incidents of farmers suicides in the cotton cultivating belt of Vidarbha region & also actively working for the cause of Rehabilitation of farmers’ Widows & their children. The petitioner has strived for the betterment of the Ration Card holders as the petitioner has time and again witnessed the plight of the poor ration card holders having engaged in the effective implementation of activities of Distribution of Essential Commodities under the various schemes of the Central and State Government.
The PIL further pointed out that present petition has been filed by way of public Interest litigation and the petitioner does not have any personal interest in the matter. The petition is being filed in the interest of the underprivileged citizens of Maharashtra who are eligible to be the beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act- NFS Act but have left out because of non performance of the respondent State in undertaking the exercise of identification of the eligible households. These citizens belong to the poorest strata of the State, most of them are illiterate and are not aware about their right to food and are also not able to approach this Hon’ble Court.
The PIL further pointed out that, India is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) which recognized right to adequate food as human right. Article 47 of the Constitution of India prescribes it duty of the State to endeavour for raising of the level of nutrition of the citizens of India. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Chameli Singh had recognized Right to Food as part of Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India in the following words :-
“7. In any organised society, right to live as a human being is not ensured by meeting only the animal needs of man. It is secured only when he is assured of all facilities to develop himself and is freed from restrictions which inhibit his growth. All human rights are designed to achieve this object. Right to live guaranteed in any civilized society implies the right to food, water, decent environment, education, medical care and shelter. These are basic human rights known to any civilized society.”
The PIL further pointed out that the Government of India considering the above aspect promulgated the National Food Security Ordinance, 2013 and thereafter the Parliament passed the National Food Security Act, 2013 which was given effect from 10.09.2013. The object of the above Act reads “An Act to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matters connected there with or incidental thereto.” Copy of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFS Act) is also annexed to the PIL Petition by the Petition of the Tiwari
The PIL further pointed out that, Section 3 of the NFS Act recognizes right of every person belonging to priority household, identified under Sub-Section (1) of Section 10 to receive 5 Kg. of food grains per month at subsidized prices under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) and 35 Kg. to the households covered under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) per month. The term eligible household is defined in Section 2(3). In case of non supply of the entitled quantities of food grains makes the eligible person entitled to receive the Food Security Allowance in view of Section 8. Chapter IV of the NFS Act deals with ‘identification of eligible households’. The coverage of population under the TPDS in rural and urban areas for each State is to be determined by Central Government in view of Section 9. Accordingly, the Central Government determined the coverage of all the States including Maharashtra. The rural population is 76.32 and urban 45.34 to be covered under TPDS in the State of Maharashtra. Copy of the State-wise percentage as published on the Official Website of Government of India is also annexed to the Petition.
The PIL further pointed out that, Section 10 of the NFS Act prescribes duty of the State Government to prepare guidelines and to identify the priority households as soon as possible but within such period not exceeding 300 and 65 days after the commencement of the Act i.e. from 10.09.2013. Sub-Section (2) further mandates that list of such eligible households shall be updated in accordance with the guidelines. The list of identified eligible households is to be displayed prominently in the public domain as per the mandate of Section 11 of NFS Act. The NFS Act prescribes that the Central and State Government shall endeavor to progressively undertake necessary reforms in the TPDS in consonance with the role envisaged for them in this Act. As per Section 12(2) the reforms shall inter alia include application of information and communication technology tools including end-to-end computerization in order to ensure transparent recording of transactions at all level. Chapter VII of the NFS Act deals with the ‘grievance redressal mechanism’ and provides for establishment of ‘District Grievance Redressal Officer’, ‘State Food Commission’ for providing the Grievance Redressal System to the deprived or aggrieved person.
The PIL further pointed out that the obligations of the State Government for food security are prescribed under Section 24 which include the duty of the State Government of ensuring actual delivery or supply of food grains to the entitled persons at the prices specified, it is also made obligatory duty of the State to ensure actual delivery of entitled benefits to the eligible households. For efficient operations of TPDS it is prescribed that every State Government shall create and maintain scientific storage facilities for food grains, suitably strengthen capacities of designated agencies, to establish, institutionalized licensing arrangements for Fair Price Shops in accordance with Public Distribution System (Control) Order, 2001. The thrust of the NFS Act is on transparency and accountability and therefore Section 27 mandates that all records related to TPDS shall be placed in public domain and kept open for inspection to the public. Section 40 prescribes the power of State Government to make rule, Section 40(2)(a) specifically mentions the power of State Government to make rule in respect of framing guidelines for identification of priority households under Sub-Section (1) of Section 10.
The PIL further pointed out that the NFS Act is a complete code in itself and is being made to give effect to the right to life as guaranteed by the Constitution of India under Article 21. The Act prescribes various statutory roles to the State Government and perusal of those provisions make it crystal clear that it is the State Government only that has to perform the most important part in ensuring that the benefits of the above Act have reached the doorsteps of the eligible families.
The PIL further pointed out that in the light of the scheme of the NFS Act, the first step that the State Government has to take is to frame guidelines for the purpose of identification of eligible and priority households. After framing of such guidelines the eligible and priority households are to be identified within the number prescribed by Central Government. After identification of the beneficiaries, they have to be issued the Ration Cards as per the PDS (Control) Order, 2001 issued under the provisions of Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and thereafter the procedure for introducing reforms including end-to-end computerization is to be undertaken.
The PIL further pointed out that the State Government till this date have not framed any guidelines for identification of the eligible and priority households neither such households are identified or appropriate Ration Cards are supplied to them. The respondent State is maintaining its Official Website which is in public domain. The complete information about Targeted Public Distribution System in the State of Maharashtra is limited to 4 pages on this Website and shows that the information about the beneficiaries of Antyodaya Anna Yojana is not updated after the year 2005. The criteria for issuance of the Tricolour Ration Cards are mentioned but it shows that it is framed prior to May 1999. Copy of the entire information placed on the Official Website of the State is also annexed to the PIL Petition.
The PIL further pointed out that the above fact and the information placed in the public domain by the respondent State is sufficient to demonstrate that till this date the respondent State has not framed guidelines as expected by the NFS Act and neither have identified the eligible and priority households as defined under the NFS Act. This omission on the part of the respondent State has kept numerous eligible households out of the list and purview of NFS Act amounting to violation of their Fundamental Right. To the contrary for want of necessary guidelines and identification, possibility of inclusion of ineligible person in the existing list of beneficiaries also cannot be ruled out thereby defeating the entire purpose of enacting the NFS Act, Mr. Tiwari pointed out to the Hon’ble High Court and it is most unfortunate that due to gross failure of the respondent State to implement NFS Act, unfortunate incident of death of a household head Smt. Lalita Shivkumar Rangari at Tirora, Dist. Gondia is happened.
The PIL further pointed out that on one hand the State Government is not performing its statutory obligation and on the other hand it has made reduction in quantity of foodgrains being distributed under PDS Act and without undertaking the survey of households as per the provisions of NFS Act, also issued the impugned Government Resolution dated 11.03.2015 in regards its intention of end-to-end computerization with an expenditure of at Rs.103.99 Crores, without doing the exercise of house to house survey of eligible families as mandatorily required under NFS ACT
The PIL further pointed out that if, the Government is permitted to go ahead with the above impugned Policy then it would amount to placing the Cart before the Horse because unless and until the eligible households are identified and appropriate Ration Cards are issued to them, there cannot be computerization of such Cards. If, the existing Cards are computerized and thereafter the identification of the eligible households is done then thereafter again the similar exercise of computerization would have to be undertaken resulting into making the earlier exercise futile and the money spent as wastage of Public Exchequer.
The PIL further pointed out that the inaction of the respondent State Government in framing the guidelines and undertaking the exercise of identification of the eligible and priority households is amounting to deprivation of the eligible households from their entitlement of getting the food grains. Unless & until such exercise is undertaken even the aggrieved person could not get the right to approach the Grievance Redressal Forum. As it is evident from the fact that the list of eligible households is not placed in public domain, there is no opportunity to anybody to verify about his inclusion or exclusion and in absence of the guidelines, the reason for its inclusion or exclusion.
The PIL further pointed out that the extent of injury cannot be counted in terms of money as each passing day is causing violation of Fundamental Right of the poorest citizen of India in respect of their Right to life i.e. right to food. The petitioner is constantly pursuing the cause of implementation of NFS Act and PDS from time to time and he has made no. of representations to the State Government as well as Central Govt from time to time. It is expected from the State Government to perform its Constitutional duty of ensuring that no Fundamental Right of citizen of India is violated. The NFS Act itself prescribed the duty and outer time limit for its performance by the State Government. The respondent State is well aware about its failure of performing its duty, therefore, however, the petitioner has made no. of representations.
The PIL further pointed out that Hon’ble Supreme Court in W.P. (C) No.196/2001. was pleased to pass the several orders in the above matter and in order dated 10.07.2013 it was pleased to make reference to the National Food Security Ordinance, 2013 and in order dated 06.08.2013 granted liberty to the Government of exercising its powers of framing guidelines and rules
On the basis humble submission made in the PIL, the Petitioner Mr. Tiwari humbly prayed to Hon’ble High Court be pleased to entertain this Public Interest Litigation and may further be pleased to issue appropriate writ, order or direction to command respondent State to perform its obligation as prescribed under the National Food Security Act, 2013 and to ensure implementation of this Act in its letter and spirit in the State of Maharashtra; to Order enquiry in the matter of unfortunate reported incident of starvation death of Smt. Lalita Shivkumar Rangari and Order grant of suitable compensation & care to the orphan children of the deceased household head Smt. Lalita Shivkumar Rangari, of which 1 is visually disabled, to Order restoration & supply / distribution of full admissible quantity of food grains & other essentials commodities without any reduction, to quash the Government Resolution dated 11.03.2015 and restrain the respondent State from taking any such decision without following the due procedure of law as prescribed under the National Food Security Act, 2013.
In the today’s High Court hearing, Adv. Firdos Mirza, Adv. Vinod Tiwari & Adv. Tejas Deshpande represented PIL-Petitioner Mr. Kishore Tiwari whereas Notice was received by Govt. Pleaders Mrs. Bharti Dangre. Next date will be 22nd July, 2015.