No Illegality in State Government’s Door Step Ration Delivery Scheme: In Calcutta High Court

In the case of Sk. Manowar Ali & Ors v. The State of West Bengal & Ors (WPA 18630 of 2021), the Honourable Justice Krishna Rao of the Calcutta High Court ruled that the West Bengal Duare Ration scheme, which sees the State government deliver foodgrains to beneficiaries’ doorsteps via the public distribution system, is not unlawful.

Facts of the Case:

The West Bengal Public Distribution System (Maintenance and Control) Order, 2013, which amended Clause 18, was the subject of a petition before the court that asked for its declaration as unconstitutional and in violation of the Essential Commodities Act of 1955 and the National Food Security Act of 2013. (NFSA, 2013).

The petitioner’s attorney argued that only the federal government has the power to control and outlaw the production, distribution, and supply of necessities. It was further argued that the state of West Bengal has not received any power delegation from the federal government, despite the fact that it usually does so via notification.

On the other hand, Advocate General S.N. Mookherjee, who was speaking on behalf of the State government, argued that Article 162 of the Indian Constitution and Section 12 (1) of the NFSA apply to the “Duare Ration Scheme” as an administrative order. It was further argued that the NFSA, 2013, mandates that the State Government be in charge of carrying out and overseeing a number of Central Government programs as well as their own programs in accordance with directives issued by the Government of India. As a result, it was claimed that since the NFSA of 2013 is a more recent Act, it shall supersede the Essential Commodities Act of 1955.

After reading the opposing arguments, the Court noted that nothing in the NFSA, 2013, its rules, and the statutory orders issued in accordance with Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, suggests that the State Governments are not permitted to provide a benefit to the beneficiaries under the NFSA, 2013.

Court’s Findings:

“The State Governments are required by Section 24 (2) (b) of the NFSA to ensure actual delivery of food grain supplies to the eligible individuals at the prices listed in Schedule-I. As a result, the State Government wants to go above and beyond to deliver food to the beneficiaries’ doorsteps. This action does not violate any provisions of the NFSA, its rules, or the orders issued under the ECA, 1955 “The Court went on to say.

The Court further stated that the actual delivery of rations to beneficiaries’ doorsteps falls under the purview of the State Government’s authority and responsibility as granted by Sections 24 (2) (b) and 32 of the NFSA, 2013.

“On conjoint reading of Sections 24 (2) (b), 32, and 35 of the West Bengal Public Distribution System (Maintenance and Control) Order, 2013, as well as Clause 35 thereof, this Court hold that there is no illegality in amending Clause 18 of the West Bengal Public Distribution System (Maintenance and Control) Order, 2013, by notification dt. 13th September, 2021,” the Court stated in its decision upholding the constitutional validity of the challenged notification.

Justice Rao emphasized that the claim of repugnancy would only be admissible if both pieces of legislation were included in the same list under the seventh schedule of the constitution. Nevertheless, it was determined that in this particular case, Section 24 (2)(b) of the NFSA, 2013, required the State Government to ensure actual delivery or supply of the foodgrains to the entitled persons at the prices specified in the Schedule, and that the State Government had decided to deliver food-grains at the doorsteps of the beneficiaries, which could not be said to be in violation of any provision of the NFSA, 2013, the Rules framed thereunder, or the order issued under the Essential Commodities Act.

The court also noted that fair price shop dealers had previously filed petitions on a related issue, but even then, the high court did not interfere with the Duare Ration Scheme.

It should be noted that Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya upheld the legality of the ambitious meal program of the West Bengal Government in an order dated December 23, 2021, saying that a welfare program developed for achieving food and nutritional security is a necessity-driven measure to tide over the current existential challenge.

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Judgement Reviewed By Manju Molakalapalli.

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