(PER : HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE J.B.PARDIWALA) By this writ application, the writ applicant, a resident of Surat has prayed for the following reliefs:
"[A] To issue a writ, order or direction in the nature of mandamus or any other writs, directing respondent to set a proper mechanism whereby stringent steps are taken to follow norms and guidelines of `Social Distancing' for distribution of ration to the beneficiaries on door to door basis i.e. something more in furtherance of the notification issued by the Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, Gandhinagar bearing No.PDS/April-2020/Food Basket/120/2020-21 dated 28.03.2020 under the Gujarat Free Ration Scheme, 2020, as people at large have failed to observe norms of social distancing i.e. neither have they maintained at least 1 meter distance in market places, ration store etc nor do they have patience while obtaining / acquiring essential goods. Therefore, such responsibility of distribution may be fastened upon the local Municipal Corporation or member of gram panchayat or any other local body deemed fit and necessary.
mandamus or any other writs, directing respondent to distribute food packages to all eligible from fair price shops and deliver the same to beneficiaries only after stringently adhering to norms of social distancing and proper health and hygiene care, if deemed necessary Your Lordship may also direct to provide such distributors with medical safety / hygiene kit.
[C] To issue a writ, order or direction in the nature of mandamus or any other writs, directing respondent to widely publicize such direction to the public at large by way of circular, advertisement, press note or any other appropriate method."
Brief note has been filed by Ms. Shah, the learned Government Pleader in this regard. The same reads thus:
"AFFIDAVIT-IN-REPLY ON BEHALF OF RESPONDENT - STATE OF GUJARAT I, Kishorkumar S. Rana, aged 55 years, working as Under Secretary, Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department having my office at Block No.14, 5 th Floor, New Sachivalaya, Gandhinagar, do hereby solemnly affirm and state as under:
1 I have perused a copy of the captioned public interest litigation as well as the relevant files and records pertaining thereto. I say that I am conversant with the facts and circumstances connected to the captioned public interest litigation. Under the circumstances, I am competent as well as authorized to make this affidavit-in-reply on behalf of the respondent State.
2 I respectfully say that my non-dealing with the present petition, para-wise, may not be construed as admission on my part, save and except what is expressly admitted to be true by me herein below. I reserve my right to file a further detailed affidavit, if and when, necessary.
3 The present petition has been filed before the Hon'ble Page 2 of 9 Downloaded on : Tue Feb 23 22:53:23 IST 2021 C/WPPIL/65/2020 ORDER
Court praying for holding that the acts of the respondent authorities for directions to the respondent authorities to set a proper mechanism whereby stringent steps are to be taken to follow norms and guidelines of 'Social Distancing' for distribution of ration to the beneficiaries on door to door basis, as the people have failed to follow social distancing norms and such other reliefs.
4 It is submitted that due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the lockdown that was imposed on 25.03.2020, the Respondent State, in order to mitigate the effects of the same on poor and needy people, vide various Government resolutions/Notifications dated 28.03.2020, 04.04.2020, 08.04.2020, 11.04.2020, 24.04.2020, 28.04.2020, 11.05.2020, 02.05.2020, 24.05.2020, 02.06.2020 and 15.07.2020announced various schemes for various categories of beneficiaries, so as to distribute free food baskets to such beneficiaries. Copies of the said resolutions are annexed hereto and marked as Annexure-R1. An overview of the ration provided to various categories of eligible beneficiaries is as hereunder:
S. Name of Number of Date of Month Number of persons Remarks No Scheme Ration cards Distribution April-2020 65.40 Lac 321.24 Lac From 01.04.2020 to Month end From 17.05.2020 to Month end Free Food (for Ahmedabad City Basket 1. NFSA May-2020 65.42 Lac 320.98 Lac 27.05.2020 to 06.06.2020 and Regular extended up to 10th June only) June-2020 65.42 Lac 320.99 Lac From 15.06.2020 to Month end July-2020 65.47 Lac 321.19 Lac From 10.07.2020 to Month end Paid April-2020 3.40 Lac 14.92 Lac From 05.04.2020 to Month end From 17.05.2020 to Month end (for Ahmedabad City Free Food Non- May-2020 3.38 Lac 14.82 Lac Basket 27.05.2020 to 06.06.2020 and 2 NFSA extended up to 10th June only) BPL June-2020 3.29 Lac 14.46 Lac 15.06.2020 to Month end July-2020 3.25 Lac 14.34 Lac From 16.07.2020 to Month end Paid April-2020 61.04 Lac 250 Lac From 13.04.2020 to Month end Free Food Non- Basket 3 NFSA From 07.05.2020 to Month end declared on APL1 May-2020 61.1 Lac 250 Lac (only for Ahmedabad City special case Page 3 of 9 Downloaded on : Tue Feb 23 22:53:23 IST 2021 C/WPPIL/65/2020 ORDER 18.05.2020 to 25.05.2020) June-2020 Not Declared by Government July-2020 From 09.04.2020 to April-2020 31/05/2020 (April 2020's Anna (1st Phase ) 4 Lac term has been extended till - Braham 31.05.2020) May-2020 9 Lac (2nd Phase 1651 4548 From 25.05.2020 to month till 24th May (No. of Family) (Person) end Free 4 then after of " Anna ANB Cost braham- Scheme ) aatmanir bhar June-2020 (Extended till Bharat" 31.08.2020) 16307 (No. of ( since June-2020 45801 (Person) Family) 25th May) From 25.04.2020 to April-2020 68.80 Lac 336.16 Lac 30.04.2020 (extended up to 3rd May) Pradhan Mantri From 25.05.2020 to Month GareebK end May-2020 68.79 Lac 335.81 Lac (for Ahmedabad City Free alyaan 5 27.05.2020 to 06.06.2020 and of Anna extended up to 10th June only) Cost Yojana (PMGKA From 15.05.2020 to Month June-2020 68.71 Lac 335.46 Lac Y) end Will be Commence from July-2020 68.72 Lac 335.53 Lac 23.07.2020 to Month end 5 The Respondent State has made efforts to ensure the
distribution of food baskets through 17000+ Fair Price shops in a time bound manner. The state has organized adequate staff, labor, and vehicles for the peaceful and hygienic distribution of such food grains. Following are some of the steps that have been taken in this regard:
[a] During the distribution of free ration, facility of soap, hand wash, sanitizers, etc. has also been made available at the Fair Price Shops and the same is being used in a proper manner and is also being monitored by the state.
[b] The distribution that is being done by the fair price shops is carried out in two modes, online and offline. For the distribution of the food basket to the beneficiaries through the online mode, the same is being done by generation of a one-time password i.e. OTP.
C/WPPIL/65/2020 ORDER [c] The distribution of food grains to the various beneficiaries is being done in a phased manner whereby the beneficiaries are called only on particular number of days, after allotment of a particular last number of Ration Card of beneficiaries. In order to ensure that the huge crowds of people do not gather at the fair price shops. The guidelines on social distancing are being followed whereby a minimum distance of one meter is being maintained and for that purpose, to guide the beneficiaries while collecting the food grains, circles (using white chalks/markers) are being drawn on the floors by the operators of the fair price shops.
[d] In order to ensure that law and order is being maintained the help, aid, and assistance of the local police authorities was also taken in the process. In order to ensure that there is peaceful and hygienic distribution of food grains a committee was constituted for the said purpose:
[i] At the Village level, the committee consists of the Sarpanch, Talati-cum-Mantri or Gramsevak, a Teacher and the member of the village guard, Home guard or police.
[ii] At the city level or at the urban level, the committee consists of a social worker or a representative of non-governmental organization, a teacher or any other government officer and a member of the Home guard or the police.
[e] Since the relaxation of the norms of the lockdown, in order to ensure smooth distribution of free ration, from July, 2020, a member of the Village Vigilance Committee as constituted under the National Food Security Act, 2013, is required to be continuously present at each Fair price shop.
6 Considering the issues raised in the present petition pertain to the district of Surat, following are the steps taken by the Respondent State for smooth, safe and efficient distribution of free ration for the district of Surat:
C/WPPIL/65/2020 ORDER [a] It is submitted that vide order dated 28.03.2020, passed by the District Supplies Officer, in order to ensure that there is constant and sufficient supply of essential goods and commodities, 14 nodal officers have been appointed for supervision of the same in 14 talukas of Surat. A copy of the said order dated 28.03.2020 is annexed hereto and marked as Annexure-R2.
[b] A communication dated 29.03.2020 was addressed by the Additional District Magistrate to the Commissioner of Police, Surat (City) and the Superintendent of Police, Surat (Rural) for availing the aid assistance of the police authorities to ensure peaceful distribution of the free food baskets to the various beneficiaries and in order to ensure that the guidelines pertaining to social distancing are being maintained and enforced in a proper manner. A copy of the said communication dated 29.03.2020 is annexed hereto and marked as Annexure-R3.
[c] Orders have been issued to ensure that during the distribution of the food baskets, or food grains, there is no crowding of people and in order to ensure that there is peaceful and hygienic distribution of the food grains, guidelines pertaining to social distancing are being implemented and circles are being drawn on the floor of the fair price shops at a distance 1 meter.
[d] For the purpose of distribution of food grains to various categories of beneficiaries such as BPL, AAY, etc. work in 3 government godowns is being carried out round-the-clock, i.e. 24 hours, a day. In such godowns, the work of loading and unloading of almost 600 to 700 metric tons of food grains with 60 to 70 transport vehicles and 50 to 60 labourers is being carried out every day. In order to ensure that no situation of law and order also arises, such work is being carried out with the support of the local police authorities and Police protection is being provided round the clock.
[e] Due to the sudden increase in the number of positive cases of COVID-19, the Police Commissioner Page 6 of 9 Downloaded on : Tue Feb 23 22:53:23 IST 2021 C/WPPIL/65/2020 ORDER had imposed Curfew in various areas of Surat such as Surat city, Salabatpura, Mahidharpura, Lal Gate, Limbayat, etc. [f] Some of the instructions that have been issued at various godowns which are being operated for the distribution of the food grains, are as hereunder:
[a] Provision of adequate facilities for drinking water, sanitation and refreshments at these godowns.
[b] If required the work in the godowns is to be completed in two or three shifts.
[c] As per requirement, the facilities of computer operators and Internet are also to be organized.
[d] There has to be 24 hour-Security at the godowns and the security should also be employed shift-wise.
[e] The transporters and the contractors are required to provide adequate number of vehicles and labourers.
[g] Considering that the fair price shop owners and operators come in contact with a large number of people on a daily basis, these persons have developed a sense of fear and a request has been made by them for medical check-ups. Therefore, orders have been issued to all the Mamlatdars of Surat district that in case any fair price shop owner/operators wish to avail the facility of medical checkup then some preference and priority be granted to them.
[h] A Communication dated 15.05.2020 has been addressed by the District Civil Supplies Officer, Surat to the Chief District Health Officer, Surat stating that the number of people gathering at the Fair Price Shops is huge and their being a possibility of transmission of COVID-19 necessary steps be taken regarding regular sanitization of the Fair Price Shops and for provision of Page 7 of 9 Downloaded on : Tue Feb 23 22:53:23 IST 2021 C/WPPIL/65/2020 ORDER masks, sanitizer etc., A copy of the communication dated 15.05.2020 is annexed hereto and marked as Annexure-R4.
[i] A communication dated 10.06.2020 has been addressed by the District Civil Supplies Officer, Surat to the Commissioner of Police, Surat and the Superintendent of Police, Surat stating that considering the number of people gathering at the Fair Price Shops is greater there is need to maintain social distancing and therefore, all four (4) Fair Price Shops necessary police personnel be placed for support. A copy of the communication dated 10.06.2020 is annexed hereto and marked as Annexure-R5.
[j] A communication dated 10.06.2020 has been addressed by the District Civil Supplies Officer, Surat to all the zonal officer and all Deputy Mamlatdar, Surat saying that not more than ten people should gathered in Fair Price Shop at a particular point of time and arrangement should be made in such manner, the tokens are given in advance to the beneficiaries. A copy of communication dated 10.06.2020 has been addressed by the District Civil Supplies Officer, Surat to all the zonal officer and all Deputy Mamlatdar, Surat is annexed hereto and marked as Annexure-R6. Copies of photographs of a few fair price shops showing distribution of ration while maintaining social distance are annexed hereto and marked as Annexure-R7(Colly).
[k] I say and submit that all the orders and communications as mentioned hereinabove are not being produced for the sake of brevity and for not making the present reply bulky and lengthy. However, I hereby undertake to produce the same before the Hon'ble Court, if and when required and called upon to do so.
7 It is submitted that the aforementioned paragraphs indicate that the Respondent State is making all efforts to ensure that distribution of free ration is being done with full implementation of rules of social distancing and other preventive measures are being taken. The allotment of Page 8 of 9 Downloaded on : Tue Feb 23 22:53:23 IST 2021 C/WPPIL/65/2020 ORDER tokens in advance, support of police personnel, regular sanitization, etc. are only some of the measures that are being taken. With respect to the incident mentioned by the petitioner regarding one fair price shop owner, being COVID- 19 positive, it is submitted that a report in this regard has been submitted on 30.04.2020 by the District Civil Supplies Officer to the Respondent State. As per the report, the said person (Kamlesh Khatik) tested positive for COVID-19 on 18.04.2020. All steps are being taken to ensure that social distancing guidelines are being maintained for distribution in the concerned areas by the local administration in a proper manner. As a matter of fact, 3 additional persons per Fair Price Shop for L-27, L-30 and L-31, had also appointed for the same, at the relevant point of time.
8 In view of the aforementioned submissions, it is submitted that the grievance as raised by the petitioner in the present public interest litigation, appears to have been taken care of, and therefore, the present petition be disposed of, in the interest of justice."
In view of the detailed report referred to above, this writ application need not be adjudicated any further. We are convinced that appropriate steps have been taken by the State authorities.
In view of the aforesaid, this writ application stands disposed of.
(VIKRAM NATH, CJ) (J. B. PARDIWALA, J) M.A. SAIYED Page 9 of 9 Downloaded on : Tue Feb 23 22:53:23 IST 2021