Tamil Nadu

Govt. norms for distribution of relief materials justified: HC

‘But requirement to hand them over to officials not well founded’

The Madras High Court on Thursday observed that the State was “wholly justified” in imposing certain conditions for distribution of relief materials to the needy during the lockdown to fight COVID-19.

It, however, ruled that the requirement to hand over the relief materials to the jurisdictional government officials was not well founded.

Justices R. Subbiah and R. Pongiappan was disposing of a public interest litigation petition filed by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) to forbear the government and its instrumentalities from interfering with distribution of cooked food, food grains, groceries, vegetables and medical kits to the poor by the party cadre across the State.

After hearing arguments advanced by senior counsel P. Wilson, representing the petitioner party and Advocate General Vijay Narayan for the State, the judges said: “We also do not see any irrationality or arbitrariness in requiring individuals or group of individuals from seeking prior permission from the authorities concerned (for distribution).

“Having regard to the magnitude of the situation which the State is presently combating, it is very much essential that the organisers and the beneficiaries strictly adhere to certain norms with a view to regulating the distribution of food and other items. Such a condition was issued only to ensure that there will not be any further spread of the malevolent disease.”

Further, issuing a series of 10 directions, the court ordered that, henceforth, political parties, non-governmental organisations and other volunteers, wanting to distribute relief materials to the poor, must intimate the officials concerned at least 48 hours in advance.

In case of distribution of cooked food, it must be inspected by Food Safety Officers.

If the officers were satisfied with the health condition of those involved in preparation of food, as well as its quality, the volunteers could proceed with the distribution.

“However, there shall not be any distribution of food in areas earmarked as hot spots by the government,” the Division Bench said and ordered that all venues should be sanitised before distribution.

Granting liberty to the State to deploy police to regulate the crowd, the court made it clear that a maximum of three volunteers, apart from the elected representatives and vehicle drivers, could be allowed to distribute the relief materials at each venue and that more than three persons should not travel in vehicles used to transport the relief materials.

“The petitioner organisation or other similar organisations, non-governmental organisations, individuals or group of individuals shall strictly ensure that social distancing norm is followed during distribution of food and that there is no deviation whatsoever. It is well open to the authorities to impose such other conditions that may be reasonable,” the Bench added.

Authoring the verdict, Justice Subbiah empathised with daily wage labourers for having lost their livelihood due to the nationwide lockdown.

“Several thousands have been rendered jobless and particularly daily wage earners, contract labourers and migrant workers are the worst affected. Citizens living below the poverty line are finding it difficult to get a square meal a day.

“In this grim situation, public spirited persons have taken up the task of feeding the poor by engaging them in charitable activities. It is no doubt true that the Government cannot feed the entire masses during this extreme situation and the support of the volunteers, non-governmental organisations and other individuals is inevitable.”

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 8:51:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/govt-norms-for-distribution/article31360365.ece

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