SC labelled the cancellation of 3 crore ration cards due to non-linking with Aadhar card “too serious”. The Supreme Court also asked the Central government and all states of the country for a response regarding the issue.
“It is a serious issue”, said the Supreme Court bench which comprised of the Indian Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian. The court also said that matter ought not to be treated as adversarial in nature as it is too serious a matter.
The Case of Santoshi Devi’s death
The court’s statement came during a hearing of plea filed by Koli Devi who alleged that her 11-year-old daughter Santoshi died of starvation due to cancelation of ration cards. According to Santoshi’s mother Koli and her sister Gudiya Devi, who both are joint petitioner in case, Santoshi lived in a poor dalit family and died as the local authorities had cancelled their ration card. According to the plea, the authorities cancelled their ration card as they failed to link it with Aadhar card. The plea further alleged that the family stopped receiving government sanctioned ration from March 2017 and due to that they started starving.
What Santoshi Devi’s lawyer argued?
Koli Devi was represented by Advocate Colin Gonsalves and told the Supreme Court bench that the petitioner’s daughter ended up dying due to starvation as they didn’t receive benefits due to non-linkage of ration card to Aadhar card.
Mr Gonsalves approached the bench and argued, “More than three crore cards cancelled at the Central level. In every State, 10 to 15 lakh cards are cancelled. There are situations where fingerprints or iris scanner does not work in tribal areas.”
What Centre’s lawyer argued?
Meanwhile, Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi represented the Centre claimed that the petitioner’s plea was based on newspaper reports and claimed that under the Food Security Act there are grievance redressal systems that were not availed before the petitioner moved to the court.
Aman Lekhi said, “There is a grievance redressal system under the Food Security Act. This court has already sought responses from the state governments on this. The plea, as being pressed, is completely misconceived because there is an absolute clarity that if Aadhaar is not available, alternative documents can be submitted.” Lekhi also said how even there is no Aadhar Card possessed by someone; they will not be denied the right to food. “We have clearly said Aadhaar or no Aadhaar, it will not deny right to food,” Lekhi said.
Mr Gonsalves argued the main issue of the situation is the cancellation of three crore ration cards and starvation death.
Supreme Court’s final statement
The Supreme Court after hearing the arguments said that the case was not an adversarial litigation and the Court sought a response because of the Aadhar Card issue. “We are asking you (Centre) to respond because of the Aadhaar issue. This is not an adversarial litigation.” The court also ordered that it would hear the PIL in depth after three weeks.
The Supreme Court bench also said, “Issue notice returnable in four weeks to the respondent States calling upon them to appraise steps they have taken for implementation of the grievances redressal mechanism contained in Sections 14, 15 and 16 of the National Food Security Act, 2013. Notice may be served on the standing counsel for the state.”
It should be noted that the apex court had sought responses from all Indian states over the issue of starvation deaths of people who died because they were deprived of ration supplies as they could not link their Aadhar cards.
Meanwhile, in a hearing on February 24, 2020, the Centre denied all the allegations of deaths caused by starvation and cancellation of ration cards across the states in India. The Centre claimed that the cancellation of ration cards between the years 2013 to 2016 pertained to ‘ghost’ ration cards. Justice Venugopal had claimed that the statistics in the petitions were inaccurate and the government could easily prove the allegations as inaccurate.