The Delhi High Court today sought the Centre's stand on a PIL that the benefits under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, which was introduced as a relief package for the poor in 2020 after the first COVID-19 lockdown, should be extended to those who are not the subscribers of the Ujjwala scheme or possess an active Jan Dhan account.

A Bench of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Navin Chawla issued notice on the petition by Aakash Goel and asked the Centre to file its response.

Central government Counsel Anil Soni sought time from the court to file a status report on the matter.

The petitioner, represented by Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, has claimed that the scheme is exclusionary because it leaves out of its ambit the below poverty line families who are not subscribers of the Ujjwala scheme or have an active Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) account.

The grant of Rs 500 (under the relief scheme) was limited only to PMJDY account holders. Having an active PMJDY account is a pre-requisite for availing benefit of this ex-gratia amount announced by the Union Government however this criterion is exclusionary because crores of poor women do not possess an active PMJDY account, the petition stated.

It is further pertinent to note that the relief package granting three free gas cylinders was made available exclusively to subscribers of the Ujjwala Scheme while again arbitrarily excluding equally disadvantaged below poverty line women who were not subscribers of the said scheme, it added.

The petitioner has argued that the classification of poor based on being PMJDY account holders or being Ujjwala subscribers is absolutely arbitrary, discriminatory, and devoid of reason.

The petitioner further said that it is absurd that the authorities view the hardships faced by non-Ujjwala BPL households or non-PMJDY account holders as less serious than those being faced by an Ujjwala BPL households and PMJDY account holders.

The disbursement of relief to the people essentially belonging to same economic class and facing similar financial hardships, cannot be in the absolute discretion or according to the whims and fancies of the Government. It is further submitted that grant of relief under the Relief Package ought to not be allowed to become distribution of government largesse to a favoured few, the petition has said.

It is thus prayed that a direction be issued to the authorities to conduct an identification exercise concerning the non-PMJDY account holders as well as non-Ujjwala subscribers who are eligible for the benefits of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana package and to extend the benefits to those eligible.

The matter would be heard next on October 28.

With PTI inputs