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Explained | The fate of the Delhi government’s doorstep ration delivery scheme- Mrit News

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The scheme has been stalled ever since the Delhi government released its first proposal in 2018

The scheme has been stalled ever since the Delhi government released its first proposal in 2018

The story so far: The Delhi Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government’s doorstep ration delivery scheme was set aside by the Delhi High Court on May 19, four years after the scheme was first proposed. The Bench of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Jasmeet Singh ruled that the Delhi government was free to introduce another doorstep delivery scheme, but it could not use grains provided by the Centre.

The scheme, described by the Arvind Kejriwal government as “revolutionary,” was developed with the aim of countering the “ration mafia.” It had been in the making since 2015, with the first proposal being approved by the Delhi Cabinet in 2018.

How does the National Public Distribution System work?

The food grain delivery scheme proposed by the Delhi government sought to rely on the Public Distribution System (PDS) of the Central government. This system falls under the aegis of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, which aims to provide food and nutritional security to all citizens. The Act covers two-thirds of the country’s population, allowing them to receive subsidised food grains such as wheat and rice under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) for the weaker sections of the population.

The Food Corporation of India and recognised State authorities procure food grains at a Minimum Support Price (MSP) from farmers. The Corporation then transports and allocates the grains in bulk to States and Union Territories.

It is the State/UT governments which then have the operational responsibility of identifying eligible households, issuing ration cards, and allocating grains within the State. This is done through Fair Price Shops (FPSs) where families can collect their monthly food grains at subsidised rates. Priority Households (PHH) receive a total of 5kg of grains per month at subsidised rates of Rs.3 per kg for rice and Rs.2 per kg for wheat.

Under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), formulated for the “poorest of the poor”, segments of Below Poverty Line (BPL) families can get up to 35 kg of food grains per month at the same rates, along with a kilogram of sugar at Rs.1 per kg.

What did the Delhi Government’s doorstep delivery entail?

Eligible families covered under the NFSA usually have to visit the nearest Fair Price Shops to collect their subsidised grains. The ration scheme envisioned by the Delhi Government proposed to deliver monthly rations in sealed packets to the doorsteps of PDS beneficiaries.

The proposal for the doorstep ration delivery scheme was presented in the Delhi Assembly in 2018. The scheme was formally notified in the Assembly in February 2020 as the “Mukhya Mantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojana”. The Kejriwal government promoted the scheme as a means to counter the corruption carried out by the “ration mafia” or middlemen responsible for leakages, resulting in grains not reaching all eligible PDS beneficiaries. It questioned why rations could not be delivered at the doorstep when it was possible to do so with “pizza, burgers, smartphones and garments.”

In Delhi, the AAP government had said 72 lakh people were eligible to receive subsidised grains, of which 17 lakh were ration card holders, 30 lakh were Priority Households (PHH) and Priority State Households (PRS), while around 68,000 fell under the AAY. As per the Delhi government’s gazette notification for the scheme issued in February last year, the scheme proposed the distribution of packaged Wheat Flour Atta (WFA) instead of wheat, and packaged rice cleaned of straw, stone, and other impurities to the doorstep of the beneficiaries.

Under the scheme, millers empanelled with the government-owned Delhi State Civil Supplies Corporation Ltd. (DSCSC) would transport grains from six FCI godowns in Delhi to milling units for conversion of wheat to wheat flour, and to processing units for the cleaning of rice. From there, the millers would transport the packaged grains to around 2,000 already-existing Fair Price Shops in Delhi. The ration would then be transported to the doorsteps of beneficiaries through private agencies contracted by the Delhi Consumer’s Co-operative Wholesale Store Ltd (DCCWS).

These private agencies would notify the beneficiaries through SMS about their scheduled deliveries and only deliver the food grains to families after biometric authentication using e-POS devices.

The stalling of the scheme: objections raised by the Centre

In March 2018, the Delhi government sent the scheme’s proposal to Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, after it received cabinet approval. Mr. Baijal had then asked the government to refer the proposal to the Centre with full details, including any issues with implementation, before a final decision could be taken. Mr. Kejriwal, calling this a rejection by the L-G, had hit back saying no such reference was required according to the law.

This coincided with the already ongoing power tussle between the Delhi government and the L-G in the Supreme Court, which ruled in July 2018 that except for issues of public order, police, and land, the L-G was bound by the “aid and advice of the Kejriwal government, which has the public mandate.”

The Delhi government had planned to roll out the scheme by March 2021 and formally notified it in February of that year. However, six days before the scheduled rollout of the scheme, the Centre sent a letter to the Delhi government raising its objections.

In its letter, the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution flagged two main issues with the doorstep ration delivery scheme. First, the Delhi government could not distribute the grains allocated under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, in a local scheme as it would require amending the Act in the Parliament. The other objection was regarding the usage of the name “Mukhya Mantri” or Chief Minister in the scheme when it would use grains procured by the Centre. The AAP government had responded by saying that it had held multiple meetings with the Centre on the issue and the latter was aware of all the modalities of the scheme.

The Delhi government dropped “Mukhya Mantri” from the name of the scheme before sending the file to the L-G anew. However, it was told once again to refer the scheme to the Centre as the issue of using NFSA grains remained unsettled.

The L-G in June 2021 raised two concerns — the scheme had not been approved by the Central government and there was an ongoing court case relating to it.

Matter reaches the Delhi High Court

Besides the Centre’s objection to the scheme, a separate petition was filed in the Delhi High Court by ration dealers opposed to the scheme, after the AAP government issued tenders in January looking for millers. The petitioners feared that the doorstep delivery scheme would endanger the future of Fair Price Shops. Along with two associations of dealers — the Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers Sangh and Delhi Ration Dealers Union — the Union government was also a party in the matter.

The Delhi government submitted in court that although it would have to curtail supplies to FPS dealers in order to divert them to the scheme’s beneficiaries, this would not lead to the closing down of such shops and beneficiaries could opt out of the scheme at any point.

At first, the High Court had ruled in favour of the dealers, not permitting the Kejriwal administration to divert grain supplies. In October 2021, however, the Delhi government told the court that an “overwhelming majority” of card holders had opted for the supply of rations to their doorstep, according to a survey undertaken by it. The court then gave its nod to the AAP government, allowing them to inform all fair price shop dealers in Delhi of the details of ration cardholders opting for doorstep delivery, following which the corresponding supplies could be diverted.

The Central government had appealed this order in the Supreme Court, which had refused to accept the plea since the matter was pending with the High Court.

In November, the Centre argued in favour of the fair price shop dealers stating that the Delhi government could not alter the architecture of the NFSA and that fair price shops were an integral part of it.

As the L-G’s difference of opinion with the AAP government and the apprehensions of the petitioners persisted, the High Court in January this year reserved its judgement on the matter.

What does the current verdict of the Delhi High Court say?

The Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Jasmeet Singh said that the Delhi government could not use the grains provided by the Centre under the NFSA. The Bench supported the view reiterated by the L-G over the years that the scheme would have to be approved by the Centre before being implemented.

The Court also touched upon the longstanding issue of power-sharing in Delhi, saying that the scheme could not come into force as the L-G had expressed a difference of opinion which stood unresolved, requiring the scheme to be referred to the President. The Bench also noted the contention raised by the L-G questioning how the scheme could counter corruption and ease the process of grain distribution if it was replacing one set of human interventions with another— merely replacing old service providers and their agents with new ones.

Lastly, the Bench told the Delhi government to place the scheme before its Council of Ministers for a rethink keeping in mind the objections of the Central government and the observations of the Court.

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