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Andhra Pradesh High Court dismisses PIL raising objection to the role of volunteers in disbursement of pensions

The Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed that raised certain objections as to the role of volunteers in various activities including the disbursement of pensions by volunteers.

The Government of Andhra Pradesh has been granting pensions to aged persons, physically handicapped persons and widows. These pensions are being disbursed by the volunteers, who deliver the pensions to the pensioners at their homes in the beginning of the month.  

A non-governmental organisation (Petitioner) had initially filed a complaint before the Election Commission of India, and had then approached the Court by way of Petition  of 2023 seeking a direction to the Election Commission of India to take a decision on their representations. This Court, by order dated 13.03.2024, had disposed of the writ petition leaving it open to the Election Commission of India to take an appropriate decision in accordance with law, preferably within a period of three weeks. The Court had also observed that no opinion is being expressed in the matter by the Court.

The Election Commission of India, which is arrayed as the 3rd respondent , had passed an order dated 30.03.2024  wherein volunteers were barred from distribution of cash benefits under any scheme, (including pensions) to eligible beneficiaries. The order also directed the Government of Andhra Pradesh to make alternative arrangements for the distribution of benefit for ongoing schemes to already selected beneficiaries using DBT (electronic transfer) preferably or through other regular Government employees. 

The petitioners herein, have challenged the said order of the Election Commission of India by way of the  public interest litigation petition.

G. Siva Prasad Reddy, counsel for the petitioners would submit that there has been huge upheaval in the disbursal of pensions on account of the sudden withdrawal of the volunteers. He would submit that people, who   are unable to move out are now being forced to go to the village secretariat to obtain their pensions and the same is causing untold hardship and misery. He further submit that the Election Commission of India had taken the above decision, without consulting any person or authority and without thinking the effect of such an order. He would submit that in such circumstances, the action of the Election Commission of India is an arbitrary decision, which has to be reversed.

Government Pleader for Panchayat Raj and Rural Development has placed a Circular Memo  dated 02.04.2024 issued by the Principal Secretary to the Government, Panchayat Raj and Rural Development Department. In this circular, directions have been issued to the District Collectors and other functionaries to ensure disbursal of pensions and other benefits without any interruption. One of the instructions given in this circular is to ensure door-todoor distribution of pension to the beneficiaries who belong to differently abled category; those drawing pensions under the category of serious ailments; those who are infirm, bed ridden, and confined to wheelchairs and the elderly widows of war veterans drawing sainik welfare pensions. The instructions stated that the form of distribution of pensions is compulsory and shall be made without any exception.

In view of the above instructions, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur and Justice R. Raghunandan Rao noted that the grievance of the petitioners regarding the hardship that would be faced by such categories of persons is answered.

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