The Madras High court on 21/02/2020 dismissed the writ petition filed by the Chief Minister of Puducherry challenging the decision of President of India to continue to adopt DBT (cash) transfer scheme in lieu of distribution of free food grains thereby concurring with the view of the administrator of the territory.
In the year 2000, the Government of India framed the Antyodhaya Anna yojana which provided for the distribution of food grains such as wheat and rice for the families below poverty line. A separate ration cards with an endorsement AAY was issued to the card holders. Subsequently National Food Security Act, 2013 providing for the supply of minimum 5 kgs of food grains through PDS. The Government of Puducherry decided to supply 5kgs of wheat and 10kgs of rice for free of cost. The same was implemented in the year 2013. The scheme was further extended to the districts of Mahe and Yanam in the year 2015. In the cabinet meeting held on 06.06.2016, the cabinet decided to increase the supply of rice to 20kgs to all card holders through PDS.
Meanwhile the Government of India framed the Cash Transfer of Food Subsidy rules in the year 2015. Under section 3 of the said rules, it was stated that the state government has discretion to either supply the food grains or credit the amount in the card holders’ bank account. By letter dated 16/02/2018, the government expressed its opinion to continue supplying the food grains instead of crediting the amount in the bank accounts.
However, the administrator of the state directed the government of Puducherry to reduce the supply of rice of 20kgs to 10kgs for card holders above poverty line and directed to do Direct Benefit Transfer as cash. The said matter was put to discussion before the cabinet on 07/06/2019. The cabinet passed resolution no. 2018/M38/279 wherein it was decided to continue with the supply of food grains. But the administrator differed in opinion of the council of ministers and referred the matter to the president of India under the proviso of section 44 of Government of Territories Act, 1963 on 05/09/2019.
The president of India through the Ministry of Home Affairs by a letter dated 19/12/2019 directed the union territory of Puducherry to continue with the system of Direct Benefit transfer. Hence this writ petition was filed challenging the order of the president which concurred with the opinion of the administrator of the state.
The chief Minister of Puducherry filed writ petition under Article 226 of Indian Constitution praying to declare the opinion of the administrator of the state and the subsequent approval of the President of India to continue with the DBT system as illegal and ultra vires.
After examining the materials placed on record and the rival submissions made, the court observed that the core issue that needs consideration was only with respect to the Article 239-A of the Indian Constitution and Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 read with Business of Government of Puducherry, 1963.
1. The court observed that Article 239-A of the constitution of India is applicable to the Union Territory of Puducherry, wherein it is provided that the president may appoint an administrator to the territory.
2. The court further observed that the administrator has to generally act upon the advice of the council of ministers. However when the administrator choses to differ from the opinion of the council of ministers, then the administrator can refer the matter to the President of India.
3. The court further stated that the President of India conveys his decision through Ministry of Home Affairs which is binding on the administrator. The said decision can either be in concurrence with the opinion of the council of minster or with that of the administrator.
4. Under the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 the administrator is sanctioned with the power to make rules with respect to any financial matter for appropriation funds out of consolidated funds of India after consultation with the speaker and with the approval of President of India.
5. The court held that in the instant case, the supply of free food grains or to follow the DBT system is a financial matter.
Madras High Court Judge, Justice C.V.Karthikeyan while holding that the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 as intra Vires the constitution, ruled that the decision of the President has binding force and hence the chief Minister of Puducherry is bound to abide the same. The Madras High court consciously dismissed the writ petition without examining the merits and demerits of the DBT (cash) transfer scheme.
Edited by J. Madonna Jephi
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
1. P.No. 821 of 2020, High Court of Madras, Order dated 21/02/2020.