Terming the cancellation of around three crore ration cards due to non-linking with Aadhaar card as too “serious”, the Supreme Court on Wednesday sought response from the Centre and all the states on a petition alleging that denial of food, under the public distribution system to those without Aadhaar cards, had resulted into starvation deaths.
A bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde asked additional solicitor general Aman Lekhi to not treat the case as an “adversarial litigation” and sought his assistance to solve the issue. “The matter is too serious, we have to hear it,” the Bench said, while hearing a PIL filed by Koili Devi, mother of an 11-year-old girl, who allegedly succumbed to starvation in Jharkhand in 2018.
Appearing for Devi, senior counsel Colin Gonsalves submitted that the Centre had so far cancelled three crore ration cards as they were not linked to Aadhaar cards, and as a consequence there have been starvation deaths. In every state, 10 to 15 lakh cards have been cancelled, he added.
Gonsalves further said that there were situations where fingerprints or iris scanner canner did not work in tribal areas. “The Union government casually gives an explanation that these cancelled cards were bogus….technological system based on Iris identification, thumb prints, possession of Aadhaar, functioning of the internet in rural and remote areas (are the reasons that) led to large scale cancellation of ration cards without notice to the family concerned,” the senior counsel argued.
Terming the plea as misconceived, Lekhi submitted that there were mechanisms at every level to address any issues that may arise. He said that an Internal Grievance Redressal Mechanism had been set up in every state and these are equipped with helplines and designation of nodal officers. There are special grievance redressal officers in every district, Lekhi said, adding that if Aadhaar was not available, alternate documents can be submitted. “If Aadhaar is not available, alternate documents can be submitted. We have clearly said Aadhaar or no Aadhaar, nobody will be denied right to food,’ he said.
The petitioner also maintained that not a single state has appointed independent nodal officers under Section 14 or District Grievance Redressal Officer under Section 15 of the National Food Security Act. “All the states have mechanically granted additional designations to existing officers. In many cases the officers given additional designations are from the Food Supply Department and they are the main persons responsible for corruption in the food distribution system,” it alleged.