The Union Law Ministry’s opinion is that the food security legislation covers not just Indians but also foreign nationals and refugees.
The ministry’s legal affairs department gave this opinion in the backdrop of a 2012 petition by the Mool Pravah Akhil Bharat Nepal Ekta Samaj, saying that “the provisions of National Food Security Act are not only applicable to Indian citizens but also to foreign nationals legally residing in India”.
The view runs contrary to the Himachal Pradesh High Court order last July that ration cards cannot be issued to those who are not citizens of India. The association of Nepali residents in India had filed the petition in the court to get subsidised ration under PDS.
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The legal affairs department’s opinion has drawn flak from the Ministry of External Affairs as well as Centre’s food & public distribution department, which have said that the grant of ration cards implies transfer of resources in the form of subsidies from the government of India to its citizens, and not to those of another country.
At a meeting on February 10, the two asked the legal affairs department to review its opinion considering that entitlement under the Act was “subject to inclusion of the household in the list of eligible households”.
While agreeing to re-examine the entitlement on the matter of foreign nationals, the legal affairs department felt refugees stood on a different footing as they were provided a subsistence allowance by the MEA.
The MEA has been asked to provide details of the allowance to refugees to ascertain if they could be brought under food security, with the subsidy component deducted from the allowance.
The legal affairs department has to submit “fresh advice” this week as the Supreme Court will take up an appeal by the Nepali association against the high court order. In its interim order of December 13, the apex court had stayed the cancellation of permanent consumer or ration cards issued to Nepali applicants or migrant labourers, and gave the Centre 10 weeks to file an affidavit.