The Delhi High Court on Wednesday sought response of all the states and union territories on a PIL seeking directions to them and the Centre to provide benefits of the various food security and poverty alleviation schemes to persons with disabilities (PWD). A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan issued notices to all the states and union territories (UTs) seeking their stand on the plea after they were also impleaded as parties in the petition by an NGO.
The high court listed the matter for further hearing on August 13. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, represented by central government standing counsel Monika Arora, filed its response to the PIL and has contended that the National Food Security Act (NFSA) is neither a poverty alleviation nor a development scheme.
It has said that unlike the targeted Public Distribution System (PDS), which was based on poverty levels, NFSA uniformly covers 67 per cent of the total population in the country. NFSA not only covers the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) but also the below poverty line and a certain portion of the above poverty line category.
"All the beneficiaries are provided foodgrains at the same issue price. The NFSA has been therefore delinked from the poverty estimates," the ministry has stated in its affidavit. The ministry has also stated that disability as an eligibility criteria already exists in the AAY guidelines and majority of the states and UTs have included it for identification of beneficiaries and priority households under NFSA.
"Notwithstanding this, the central government has further issued directions to all state governments on July 24 to ensure coverage of all disabled persons. This was reiterated over video conference with the states on July 24, 2020," the affidavit said. It also said that 5 Kg foodgrains per month for two months i.e. May and June 2020 was provided to about 8 crore migrant labour, who are not covered under NFSA or state scheme PDS cards, at a cost of Rs 3,500 crore and the validity of the scheme has been extended till August 31.
Therefore, "disabled persons can be covered under this scheme" and they can avail its benefits for the months of July and August without a ration card, the ministry has said. The bench, on the last date of hearing on July 22, had remarked that PWD have been excluded from welfare schemes "from time immemorial".
"Fact that persons with disabilities get marginalised from every scheme does not require a debate," it had said. The observations by the bench came while hearing the NGO''s PIL seeking directions to the Centre to ensure that states and Union Territories provide benefits of welfare schemes, like Pradhan Mantri Garib Anna Kalyan Yojana, to PWD also during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NGO, National Federation of Blind, represented by senior advocate Santosh Kumar Rungta, has contended that PWDs are neglected when reliefs under various food security measures are implemented as most of them do not have ration cards. The central government had earlier told the court that ration cards are required under NFSA to provide foodgrain to over 80 crore people and compartmentalising them under various categories, including disabled, makes it difficult to identify the priority households.
The Centre had also claimed that it is the responsibility of the states and UTs to identify priority households. The NGO has contended that under the PWD Act of 1995, a 3 per cent reservation was provided for all disabled persons in poverty alleviation schemes and this was increased to 5 per cent under the RPWD Act of 2016.
Therefore, the government should ensure that at least 5 per cent of the beneficiaries for foodgrain under the schemes like, Antyodaya Anna Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Garib Anna Kalyan Yojana, are PWD, it said. It has also said that most of the PWDs are in institutions as they are neglected by their families and such institutions do not provide an address proof to their inmates and therefore, they are unable to get ration cards.
The NGO has said that under the NFSA, the Centre has to ensure states and UTs identify the PWD who are eligible for foodgrains under the various schemes and to provide the same to them. The petition has sought a direction to the Centre to "consider the cases of persons with disabilities and visually impaired persons even without ration cards on the basis of their disability certificates and/ or Unique Disability ID (UDID) for getting benefit under National Food Security Act" and the Pradhan Mantri Garib Anna Kalyan Yojana.
Besides that, it has also sought that foodgrains be provided free of cost to poor PWD as was done for migrant labourers and others during the present pandemic.