The Supreme Court on Monday asked the States to produce proof on record that they have established a mechanism for the poor to complain about inaccessibility to food under the Public Distribution System (PDS).
The order came on a petition filed by the mother and sister of a 11-year-old Dalit girl who died of starvation in Jharkhand on August 28, 2017.
“This death was due to the cancellation of a ration card of a poor Dalit family because the ration card was not linked to the Aadhaar card. The family had both the ration card and the Aadhaar card; but since the linkage was not done, the ration card was cancelled and the family was told to apply for a new card. This they promptly did, and yet the new card with the linkage to the Aadhaar card was not given to the family, rations were stopped from March, 2017, and an 11-year-old girl in the family, Santoshi, died of starvation,” said the petition, represented by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves and advocate Anupradha Singh.
Mr. Gonsalves said a citizen could not be denied food; it is a constitutional right. Access to food and dignity of life is a fundamental right. He said the petition dealt with a series of starvation deaths in Jharkhand, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashta, Odisha, West Bengal and elsewhere. It also contained a list of 29 persons who had died of starvation across the country.
He said this was the situation even after the National Food Security Act came into effect in 2013. If Aadhaar did not work as proof of identity to access the PDS, the government should allow the poor an alternative.
Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde stood firm in the face of a request by the Jharkhand government, represented by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, not to issue notice.
The CJI said the court wanted to know from the States whether they had established an internal grievance redress mechanism, mandated by the Act, to bring to light lack of access to food and other complaints from the public. The court said stopping the much-needed ration was not an option at all.
“Which human being will say ‘I do not mind starvation’?” he said.