The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to respond to a plea related to cancellation of over three crore ration cards for not linking them to Aadhaar and said the matter is “too serious”, Bar and Bench reported.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Koili Devi, mother of an 11-year old Santoshi Kumari who had died in September 2017, allegedly after the ration card of her family was cancelled for not being linked to Aadhaar.

The plea was originally filed in 2019, following which the Supreme Court sought responses from all states on such allegations, PTI reported. However, the Centre in Februry last year denied the allegations and said that state governments are mandated to have internal grievance redressal mechanism or nodal officers under the National Food Security Act, Bar and Bench reported.

On Wednesday, the petitioner filed an updated status report. It said that the Centre’s response was “casual” and that nearly four crore ration cards in remote areas were cancelled, Bar and Bench reported.

“The real reason [for cancellation] is that the technological system based on Iris identification, thumb prints, possession of Aadhaar, functioning of the internet in rural and remote areas etc led to large scale cancellation of ration cards without notice to the family concerned,” the status report said.

During the hearing, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian initially asked the petitioner to approach respective High Courts in the states where ration cards have been cancelled, PTI reported.

Advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the petitioner, said that the cancellations were done at the central level. “More than 3 crore cards cancelled at the central level,” he told the court. “In every state, 10 to 15 lakh cards are cancelled. There are situations where fingerprints or iris scanner does not work in tribal areas.”

Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, representing the Centre, said that Gonsalves’ argument that the ration cards were cancelled by the Centre was wrong, PTI reported.

“There is grievance redressal under the Food Security Act,” he argued. “The plea is misconceived. If Aadhaar is not available alternative documents can be submitted. This point has not been argued. We have clearly said Aadhaar or no Aadhaar, it will not deny right to food.”

After this, Bobde said the Supreme Court will hear the matter and asked the Centre to respond in four weeks. “We are asking you [Centre] to respond because of Aadhaar issue,” Bobde said, according to PTI. “The matter is too serious. We have to hear it. We expect you not to treat it as adversarial.”

Lekhi argued that a notice had already been issued, but Gonsalves said it was for setting up an alternative grievance redressal mechanism, PTI reported.

“Principle issue is cancellation of three crore ration cards and starvation death” Gonsalves said.