The Supreme Court is set to hear on Tuesday a public interest litigation petition filed by Congress Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh seeking universal coverage under the Public Distribution System and food security for all amid an “acute food shortage” due to the ongoing nationwide lockdown.
The lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus ( COVID-19 ) pandemic was imposed on March 25 and has been extended twice. It has now been extended up to May 17, though most restrictions have been lifted in designated green zones — districts that have remained free of a new case of infection for the last 21 days.
In his PIL petition, Mr. Ramesh has sought relaxations in the requirement of ration cards for supply of rations under the Public Distribution System during the coronavirus pandemic in order to help mitigate the food shortages and prevent deaths of the poor.
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He has argued that there have been numerous deaths due to starvation since the commencement of the lockdown and that there are many marginalised sections of people who are not covered under the National Food Security Act and in dire need of rations.
Any alternative remedy at this stage would take a long time, which could further accentuate food shortages and lead to wide-scale starvation deaths, Mr. Ramesh has contended.
“It may be further appreciated that this Hon’ble Court has, in the past, suspended the requirement of releasing rations against ration cards in situations of drought, etc. in Swaraj Abhiyan II v. Union of India,(2016) 7 SCC 498,” he said in the petition. In the 2016 judgement, the SC had ruled that “it would be inappropriate for the State Governments to deprive any household in drought affected areas of the requisite food grains merely because they do not have a ration card”. The apex court had held that the ration card could be substituted by a valid identity card or any proof of residence.
The Congress MP has further argued that the Supreme Court had on earlier occasions observed that the right to life, enshrined under Article 21, implies the right to food, water, a decent environment, education, medical care and shelter, and is intrinsic to our survival.
Mr. Ramesh asserted that by not ensuring access to food for all, the State was violating the fundamental right of food guaranteed to citizens under the National Food Security Act.