'Lockdown distress more as no access to food for needy'

COVID-19 lockdown's distress aggravated by denial of access to food to needy: Delhi HC

Policemen distribute food among the needy, during the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, in New Delhi, Monday, April 27, 2020. (PTI Photo)

The Delhi High Court Monday observed that the distress caused to people by the ongoing lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 virus, has been aggravated by the “denial of access of food grains” to the poor, under-privileged and marginalised sections of the populace and directed AAP government here to ensure ration shops remain open and operational all seven days to meet their requirements.

The high court was hearing a plea by an NGO seeking directions to the AAP government to ensure no one goes hungry for want of food on technical grounds like want of proper identity or ration card during the COVID-19 lockdown.

A bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Talwant Singh, which conducted the hearing through video conferencing, was informed by the Delhi government that it was undertaking necessary steps to alleviate the sufferings of needy people through various measures, including serving of hot meals twice a day at a large number of specified locations.

However, the bench in its order said, “We observe that, the distress caused to the residents of the city, by the ongoing lockdown imposed in order to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus, has been further aggravated by the stated denial of access to food grain to the poor, under-privileged and marginalized sections of the populace, even though we are informed at the Bar that, the GNCTD (Delhi Govt) is undertaking necessary steps to alleviate their suffering through various measures, stated to include the serving of hot meals twice a day at a large number of specified locations.”

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It issued notice to the Delhi government on the application and directed that the response be filed within three days and listed the matter for further hearing on May 6.

The high court also directed to ensure that all ration shops remain operational and disburse food grains in accordance with the policy formulated by the Central and Delhi government and also ensure delivery of the requisite food grains from the PDS ration shops on a regular basis on all seven days of the week.

“The GNCTD shall also ensure that food grains are distributed to the poor, needy and marginalised non-PDS residents from the PDS, as well as, other distribution centers stated to be set-up by them, for the said purpose.

"The GNCTD shall further ensure that the Sub-Divisional Magistrates of each district carry out strict and regular monitoring and oversight of the distribution of food grains, as afore directed and upload the details of shop-wise distribution of ration to both the PDS and non-PDS residents on their official website, at the end of each day,” the bench said.

It directed the state government to widely publicise and circulate the information qua the compliance of the directions issued by the court through the print and electronic media, on a daily basis.

The court also asked the Delhi government to immediately place the grievance helpline numbers on its official website and publicise in media to enable people, who are aggrieved regarding lack of distribution of food grains, to seek redressal of their grievances by contacting the nodal officers appointed for this purpose.

It said the details of nodal officers be also placed in public domain forthwith and the officers shall address the grievances by placing on the official website the action taken by them.

The application by Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan has also sought directions to the Delhi government to "continue providing mid-day meals (either in the form of cooked meals or equivalent quantities of dry rations or food allowance in lieu of cooked meals) in all government schools".

Delhi government's additional standing counsel Anuj Aggarwal submitted that the authorities are giving cooked food and dry ration to the needy persons and they are feeding 10 lakh people daily with cooked meals at various hunger relief centres.

He also said all the fair price shops are being opened in Delhi on all seven days for disbursing ration.

The NGO, represented through senior advocate Sanjay Parikh and lawyer Prasanna S, has also sought a direction to the Delhi government to indicate on its food department's website a list of all ration shops in the national capital with their phone numbers, addresses and GPS location, list of ration card holders, real time stock position in the ration shops and record of sales made each day.

The application was filed in the pending petition by the NGO challenging the decision to link ration cards with Aadhaar.

In the main petition, the high court has already issued notices to the Centre and the Delhi Government.

In its application, the NGO has said that the lockdown has led to sudden and large scale loss of livelihood in the informal sector and has "plunged lakhs of people into food insecurity and hunger".

The various food programs, under National Food Security Act, are the only lifeline for such people and therefore, it is crucial that such schemes work properly, it has said. 

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