The Supreme Court has directed the Centre to increase coverage under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) so that “more and more needy persons and citizens get the benefit” under the 2013 law which entitles rural and urban poor to receive subsidised food grains under the Targeted Public Distribution System.
The coverage under the NFSA is still as per the population figures of 2011 census.
In an eight-page order, a Bench of Justices M. R. Shah and B. V. Nagarathna ordered the Union government to re-determine the NFSA coverage in States and Union Territories after taking into consideration the population increase between 2011-2021 so that benefits are not restricted to beneficiaries identified way back in 2011.
“Right to Food is a fundamental right available under Article 21 of the Constitution,” the Supreme Court noted.
The Union, in its affidavit, had stated in court that the Act required coverage to be updated as per latest published census figures. However, the NFSA coverage cannot be determined as the 2021 census has been postponed indefinitely and no date has been notified.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, for petitioners Anjali Bhardwaj, Harsh Mander and Jagdeep Chhokar, had pointed out that due to the absence of the latest population figures, over 10 crore people were left outside the food security law’s protective umbrella without even ration cards.
Mr. Bhushan had urged the court to direct the government to use the official population projections published by the Health Ministry to expand the coverage.
The court found the petitioners’ concerns “genuine and justified”. It has now directed the government to “look into the same and come out with a formula and/or appropriate policy/scheme, if any, so that the benefits under the NFSA are not restricted as per the census 2011”.
Meanwhile, the Union submitted that it has enabled the facility of ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ in all the States/Union Territories covering about 80-crore NFSA beneficiaries.
In the order, the court also directed States which were not able to register unorganised workers, including migrant labourers, in the eShram portal to do so within six weeks.
The Union Labour Ministry has developed a National Database of Unorganised Workers (NDUW) portal and the eShram portal for registration of labourers spread over 400 occupations including in constructions, agriculture, fishing, dairy, self-employed and even ASHA and anganwadi workers.
However, many States have achieved less than 50% registration. The court noted that Maharashtra has achieved only 36.97% of its workers, Tamil Nadu only 34.84%, Telangana only 34.90%, Gujarat merely 48.40% and Karnataka barely above 36%.