The Delhi High Court on Friday made it clear to the Centre that persons entitled under the public distribution system (PDS) scheme cannot be denied subsidised foodgrains.
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Anu Malhotra said the "persons entitled under the scheme cannot be denied subsidised foodgrains" and it wanted to ensure that "not only the poor", but all those "eligible" should avail the benefits of the PDS.
"However, before extending the benefit, first we need to know that how many are eligible for the scheme and how many of them have been denied the same, in the absence of requisite identity cards," the bench said.
It asked the Centre, the Delhi government and the concerned authorities to produce data on persons covered under the PDS scheme in Delhi.
It also sought to know the details of families which have been denied subsidised foodgrains in the absence of Aadhaar cards, which have been made mandatory by the government to avail benefits under the PDS.
The bench further said that unless the details are available, it would not be able to pass any direction.
"We also want to ensure that the subsidised foodgrains reach to every poor and needy people of our society," the bench said and directed the authorities to produce the data in this regard before the next date of hearing on May 25.
The court was hearing a PIL seeking quashing of the Centre's February 8 notification making Aadhaar mandatory for availing benefits under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
The plea has alleged that the notification violated the basic principle of law enshrined in Article 14 (equality) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.
The Centre has sought dismissal of the PIL, saying a similar plea was pending in the Supreme Court.
Terming PDS as a "misused system", the Centre had told the court that through Aadhaar, its endeavour was to ensure that the real beneficiaries get foodgrains.
The Centre had said it has given time till June 30 to all those who do not have the biometric-based unique identification number to apply for Aadhaar cards.
Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identification number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) after collecting biometric data of citizens.
The notification came into effect from February 8 in all states and Union Territories (UTs), except Assam, Meghalaya and Jammu and Kashmir.
Under the NFSA, which was rolled out across the country in November last year, five kilograms of foodgrains per person is provided each month at Rs.1-3 per kg to over 80 crore people in the country.
A social organisation — Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan — had moved the high court seeking enforcement of the fundamental right to food to the residents of Delhi, particularly the poor and vulnerable groups which are dependent on subsidised foodgrains distributed by the Delhi government through the PDS, which it claimed was severely impaired by the notification.
Challenging the constitutional vires of the Aadhaar/UID project, the plea has said that due to the enforcement of the notification, people were being deprived of their rightful entitlement under the NFSA.
It said the apex court in an interim order in October 2015 had allowed voluntary use of Aadhaar and ruled that no citizen can be denied a service or subsidy for want of it.
The plea further alleged that the Centre's decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for subsidised food goes against the apex court's interim order and places the most vulnerable at the risk of being left out of the food security net.