There is more to Delhi Govt’s proposed doorstep ration scheme than meets the eye

The Delhi govt has not given details of the scheme, even through RTI. It hasn’t addressed concerns of stakeholders. There has neither been a public consultation nor a pilot approved for the project

Representational image
Representational image

Ashlin Mathew

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in a video clip shared on social media is seen appealing to PM Modi and central government to let him implement the doorstep ration delivery scheme “for the sake of the poor”. He blamed the Centre for impeding the scheme through Lt Governor.

Is the matter as simple as Kejriwal made it sound in the video clip? Well, not exactly. There are several issues and concerns that the Kejriwal Government has not come clear on.

According to the Delhi government, the scheme was said to benefit more than 72 lakh beneficiaries and the file had been sent on May 24, 2021, to Lt. Governor Anil Baijal for approval and he citied absence of Centre’s approval and an ongoing legal case to reject the scheme. “The LG cited two invalid reasons to reject the implementation of doorstep delivery of ration scheme. The decision is politically motivated,” underscored Delhi Food and Civil Supplies Minister Imran Hussain.

However, it is not just the LG or the Centre who are not okay with Kejriwal’s scheme. Several social activists and other stakeholders too have some questions. Additionally, there have been no public consultations or a pilot approved for a project officially announced in July 2020, though it was pitched in 2018.

The Delhi government, in the last 11 months, hasn't placed all the relevant information about the proposed policy of home delivery of rations in the public domain. A pilot to study the teething issues that such a scheme would have during the implementation phase has not been undertaken.

According to a RTI response to Anjali Bhardwaj of Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan in February 2021, "the scheme/policy for home delivery of ration is under process". She had asked questions on the CM's home delivery scheme.

Bhardwaj said, “There is no evidence that this scheme can be implemented easily. To say if pizza reaches people’s homes, so why can’t ration is a false equivalence. We do know what the reality on the ground is. It’s not that it cannot be done, but it has to be done in a manner which is sensible, inclusive and doesn’t disrupt basic food supplies for people.”

Several other states have managed to deliver ration without running into crosshairs with the government. The Delhi government has been insisting that they want the door-to-door ration delivery under the central government’s National Food Security Act (NFSA).

In Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, ration was being delivered through anganwadi centres to the homes of the children in government schools. In cases where a household does not have children in schools, it is being delivered through their local authorities. Tamil Nadu has a universal PDS system in place since 2006. In Karnataka, though the scheme was announced, the implementation has been patchy.

“There are so many people in Delhi who need ration cards and are not covered under NFSA. Many of the southern state governments have put in money to provide ration to such people. The central government had told the Delhi Government the last time was that if they were so keen to begin this system, they should issue a state ration card. The government can put in their money in this and then do a door-to-door delivery. Why is there insistence on doing it under NFSA?” wondered Bhardwaj.

“A state ration card not something they have to check with the Central government. This would help people too. DRRAA has repeatedly requested the Delhi government to at least provide Covid ration cards, so till the Disaster Management Act was in place rations could be given to people. The Delhi government has not responded to this,” added Bhardwaj.

The state government and the LG had locked horns over ‘Mukhyamantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojana’ in 2018. Then too the LG had questioned the scheme as it involved food distribution under the central government’s PDS. It was for this that Kejriwal along with a few of his cabinet ministers sat inside the L-G’s house for a few days on matters of distribution of power in the national capital.

In July 2020, the state government announced this scheme again and said it would be implemented by March 2021.

The Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers Sangh (DSRDS), a union of Fair Price Shop (FPS) owners, has opposed the implementation of the scheme under NFSA and filed a case in the Delhi High Court. They have stated that if it is implemented under NFSA, at least 10,000 ration shop employees would be rendered jobless. The central government responded to a petition in the High Court on March 31, 2021, that they have no objection if a separate scheme is made by the State Government without mixing the elements of the NFSA food grains.

The Delhi government is yet to give its response in the matter. The petitioners also attempted to get details of the scheme through RTI applications, but they got the response that the scheme is as per "Cabinet Decision" hence it cannot be revealed under RTI.

In January 2020, the Delhi government sent SMS which stated that the government would soon launch the ‘CM Ghar-Ghar Ration Scheme’ under which aata (in place of wheat) and rice would be home delivered in packets. The message added that a fee will be payable for processing of wheat into aata, though the additional amount payable was not disclosed. The message ends stating that that those wanting to opt out of the scheme were required to send a message to a particular number. A subsequent message stated that the last date for sending a response was January 11, 2021.

No further details about the policy have been shared with ration card holders and they have not got any information about the proposed policy. There were no details about the quantity of aata that would be provided per person, fee payable for processing of aata to wheat, fee payable for delivery, mechanism for scheduling home delivery, protocol to be followed in case people are not home at the time of delivery, oversight and accountability mechanisms to monitor home delivery, mechanism for recording sale of ration and whether the delivery will be done by government officials or it will be outsourced to a company/agency are were not known.

“Many people, especially those with meagre economic means, often do not having a working mobile phone connection or are forced to change their numbers either due to inability to recharge or due to the arrival of a cheaper scheme. It is likely that many of the nearly 18 lakh households who have ration cards may have not even received the SMS intimation,” said Amrita Johri, who works issues of transparency and accountability.

“No information has been given on this scheme. We know that there are all sorts of challenges for delivering in slum areas where they need rations. It’s almost impossible for postmen to also go deposit letters as the informal settlements do not have house numbers. It will be challenging for any delivery boy to carry 50 kgs of ration and making it to the jhuggis,” pointed out Bhardwaj.

These are the most vulnerable groups which require ration the most and there cannot be disruption on a large scale. The country is in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, so even the existing systems need to be made to function properly.

“Unfortunately, there is no will to do that. They are saying the existing system is roiled in corruption, but to fight corruption, you need transparency in terms of stocks and sale, grievance redressal mechanisms in places. If you bring in another system without these basic functions, the problem remains,” added Johri.

There is more politics in this than any real benefit being thought of. “It was almost like they know it is not going to happen anyway, so make it sound like it could have come and then imply that the central government was not allowing it. It’s not like the Central government can paint itself in glory either. But, the welfare of the people should be at the heart of any issue,” maintained Bhardwaj.

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    Published: 06 Jun 2021, 9:43 PM