Explained: What is Delhi government’s doorstep ration scheme; why has it been halted?

The proposed scheme, which has been in the works ever since the AAP took office in 2015, was a prominent mention in the party's 2020 poll manifesto as well.

Ahead of its scheduled March 25 launch, the Delhi government’s doorstep delivery of ration scheme has been halted by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.

The proposed scheme, which has been in the works ever since the AAP took office in 2015, was a prominent mention in the party’s 2020 poll manifesto as well.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who pushed for reforms in the public distribution system (PDS) as an activist in the early 2000s, steered the drafting process, asserting that the rollout of the scheme would spell the end of “ration mafia”.

What is the proposed scheme all about?

The objective is simple: delivering PDS foodgrains, for which ration card holders have to visit their nearest fair price shops, to the doorsteps of the beneficiaries. It was notified as “Mukhya Mantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojana” in February 2020 and was set for a March 25 launch by Kejriwal at a slum cluster in the capital’s Seemapuri area.

Who will run the scheme as per the proposal?

According to the tender documents and the gazette notification of the scheme, millers empaneled with the Delhi State Civil Supplies Corporation Ltd (DSCSC) will be tasked with lifting wheat and rice from six godowns of the Food Corporation of India (FCI). Subsequently, the wheat will be processed into atta while the rice will be cleaned of straws, stones, jute bag thread, mud, other impurities and foreign substances and sent to the fair price shops. In the second step, the Delhi Consumer’s Co-operative Wholesale Store Ltd (DCCWS), which runs the fair price shops, will rope in private agencies for the doorstep delivery of the foodgrains.

What happens at the level of the doorstep?

As per the plan, the beneficiaries who sign up for the scheme, will be notified in advance through SMS about the delivery, as it happens in case of LPG. The packed ration will be handed over to them after biometric verification through the e-POS method. The beneficiaries can choose to collect their monthly quote at one go or in installments. Apart from the cost of the foodgrains, a specified amount, which has not yet been disclosed, will be charged for the conversion of wheat into atta and cleaning of the rice.

Why is the Centre objecting?

A one-page letter, written by a joint secretary in the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution to the Delhi Food Commissioner, carries the objections. The crux of the Centre’s objections is that Delhi cannot use highly subsidised foodgrains allocated to it under the National Food Security Act, 2013 to run a local scheme, that too with the prefix “Mukhya Mantri”. Doing so may give rise to the impression that the Delhi government was the principle architect of the food security policy, states the Centre. Apart from the name of the scheme, Delhi was also planning to make the home delivery agents, belonging to private agencies, wear t-shirts and jackets embossed with “Mukhya Mantri Ghar Ghar Yojana”. The Union Food Secretary, in an interview with The Indian Express has also questioned the provision to collect conversion charges among others, which he says, also goes against the NFSA.

What is the NFSA?

The NFSA guarantees a legal right on food and nutritional security to every Indian citizen. Under the NFSA, approximately 17.77 lakh ration card holding families in Delhi are divided into three categories — 15.12 lakh priority households (PR), 1.73 lakh priority state households (PRS), and 68,468 Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) families. The beneficiaries coming under the PR and PRS categories are entitled to 5 kg of foodgrains per month (Rs 3/kg for rice and Rs 2/kg for wheat) while AAY households receive 25 kg wheat, 10 kg rice at the same prices and 1 kg sugar. The foodgrains are distributed through a network of ration shops, of which 2005 are in Delhi. The Centre is in charge of procurement, storage, transportation and bulk allocation of food grains to the State Governments. The states are entrusted with identification of beneficiaries and delivery of the foodgrains.

What is next in the Delhi vs Centre tussle over the scheme?

The Delhi government has addressed one of the concerns raised by the Centre by dropping the name “Mukhya Mantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojana” altogether. Kejriwal has announced that the scheme will be nameless. However, the other objections, including the one on conversion charges and use of NFSA foodgrains for a state scheme, remain unattended. The passage of the GNCTD Bill, 2021, which stamps the primacy of the Lt Governor in Delhi’s administration, also portends trouble for the scheme as the February 20 notification was issued with the prior approval of only the Delhi Food Minister. The GNCTD Bill has made it clear that the elected government needs to take the opinion of the L-G before implementing any decision.

Why did the Delhi government not take the L-G’s view before notifying the scheme?

In June 2018, the Supreme Court had ruled that the L-G’s concurrence is not required on issues other than those concerning police, public order and land. Encouraged by the Supreme Court verdict, the elected government had stopped sending files on executive matters to the L-G before the implementation of any decision. Incidentally, just before the SC verdict which empowered the elected government, the doorstep scheme had an aborted launch. Lt Governor Anil Baijal had then advised it to refer the matter to the Union government with full details before taking a final decision. The Finance Department had also raised red flags over the policy, saying home delivery of ration will only replace one set of human intervention with another in the form of service providers and their agents. With the passage of the GNCTD Bill now, the possibility of the scheme getting stuck in legal quagmire has gone up.

 

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