Was the Central Government Right in Shutting the Door on the Doorstep Delivery Scheme?

 

By Athik Saleh T

The National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT) is a peculiar case, even in a country like India which isn’t short of peculiar cases. It has a democratically elected legislative assembly and executive. It also has a Lieutenant Governor who is appointed by the Union Government.

Although Union Territory by definition, the similarities Delhi has with a State are striking. It is these inherent contradictions in its power structure that are at odds, again.

The power tussle between the elected Aam Aadmi Government and the Union Government headed by BJP isn’t a new story. This story has evolved throughout the time the BJP Government has been in power at the Centre and hit a new low with the passage of amendments by both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in 2021 to the Government of National Capital Territory Act, 1991 (GNCT Act).

These amendments put the Lieutenant Governor in a primary position and massively reduced the similarities NCT once had with a state. A new chapter in this story is being written now and it is about the Delhi Government’s ‘doorstep ration delivery scheme’. The Union Government rebuked Delhi Government’s proposal to have ration delivered to the beneficiary’s doorstep.

The ins and outs of this story need a deeper understanding and this article is an attempt to decipher another chapter in this eventful power struggle between the Union Government and the Government of NCT.

What is Mukhyamantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojna?

One of the most important election promises of the Aam Aadmi Party in the run-up to the 2020 Delhi Legislative Assembly elections, the doorstep ration delivery scheme was announced by the cabinet as the ‘Mukhyamantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojna’ by the Delhi Government in March of 2021.

As the name suggests, this programme is about delivering food grains owed to a beneficiary under the Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) at their doorstep instead of them having to visit nearby ‘fair price shops.

This programme has been in the tunnel since the first Aam Admi Party Government and became an important part of their poll manifesto for the 2020 Legislative Assembly Election. The proposed scheme involves three elaborate steps[1]:

  • The task of lifting wheat and rice from the Food Corporation of India (FDI) is entrusted with the Delhi State Civil Supplies Corporation. Along with lifting the food grains, they are also tasked with processing the wheat and rice. The processed wheat and rice will be then sent to fair price shops.
  • The fair price shops are run by Delhi Consumer’s Co-operative Wholesale Store Ltd. (DCCWS). They will rope in private agencies as direct home delivery (DHD) agencies to deliver the processed grains to the beneficiaries.
  • In the third step, the beneficiaries who register for the scheme will receive an SMS regarding the delivery. They will be given a packed ration after biometric verification. Beneficiaries have the choice of availing their quota for the month in one go or they can choose to avail it in installments. The beneficiaries will have to pay an unspecified charge for the processing of the food grains.

What are the Objections Raised by the Central Government?

The objections raised by the Central Government against this scheme are manifold. They are both political and legal in nature.

  • The first objection raised by the Centre was against the nomenclature of the scheme. According to the Central Government, subsidized food grains provided to states under the National Food Security Act must not be used to run another local scheme. Section 12(2)(h) of the National Food Security Act prescribes that any such scheme will need the Centre’s permission.
  • Using a name like “Mukhyamantri Ghar Ghar Yojana” will create doubts as to who is the sponsor of the scheme. According to the Centre, it will create an illusion that it is the Delhi Government that is providing the ratio. The Centre was also against the idea that delivery agents will be wearing t-shirts with the name of the scheme.
  • The Centre also opposed the idea of charging beneficiaries an additional conversion charge which will be decided by the contractors.
  • According to the scheme, a beneficiary must choose to remain under the existing scheme of PDS or switch to the doorstep scheme at the beginning of the year and must inform the government about the same at the beginning of every year. The Centre opposed this provision of the doorstep scheme too.
  • One of the earlier objections raised by the Centre against the scheme was based on the Delhi Government not seeking the approval of the Lieutenant Governor which is mandated by the Government of National Capital Territory Act, 1991.

How did the Delhi Government Respond to the Objections Raised by the Centre?

The Delhi Government headed by the Aam Aadmi Party responded to the objection regarding the nomenclature of the scheme by dropping the name “Mukhyamantri Ghar Ghar Yojana” altogether.

The Delhi Government even agreed to the Centre’s idea of making the scheme pilot. However, the issues regarding processing charges and using food grains allocated under the National Food Security Act for a state-run scheme remained unaddressed.

The Delhi Government claims that the Lieutenant Governor and by extension the Centre has rejected the plan, and in response to these claims by the Aam Aadmi Party, the Lieutenant Governor’s office has responded that the scheme has not been rejected but have only been sent back for reconsideration for the same in accordance with the constitutional premise.

Is the Situation as Straightforward as it sounds or is it a little Trickier?

The idea of doorstep delivery of ration, in one glance, is one that makes a lot of sense. In a world where everything is home-delivered, there is absolutely no reason to doubt the benefits of delivering ration to the doorsteps of the beneficiaries. However, it’s not all candies and unicorns when it comes to this particular scheme.

It is clear as daylight that the Central Government’s rebuffing of this plan is politically motivated. As history suggests, ever since the Aam Aadmi Party government came into power, they have had many altercations with the Lieutenant Governor and the Union Government.

On the other hand, beyond the political reasons, there are other reasons to suggest that this particular scheme isn’t as public-friendly as it may seem. The reasons for this are manifold and they will be discussed below[2]:

  • The main reason suggested by the Delhi Government in favor of doorstep of delivery of ration is the Aadhar linking related issues the beneficiaries face at fair price shops. Glitches related to biometric verification using Aadhar are not uncommon in various fair price shops throughout Delhi. From the details provided by the Delhi Government, what can be understood is that the doorstep delivery will also involve an E-POS machine and biometric verification. This will certainly involve Aadhar. Therefore, the idea that the issues faced by beneficiaries at the POS in fair price shops will be solved by doorstep delivery is not sound.
  • Two kinds of ‘atta’ can be made from the processing of wheat – ‘whole meal atta’ and ‘resultant atta’. The difference between both can be understood by their price in Delhi. ‘Whole meal atta’ cost Rs. 3500/quintal while ‘resultant atta’ cost Rs. 2400/quintal. ‘Resultant atta’ contains less protein, ether extractives, and ash as compared to ‘whole meal atta’. There is no way to make sure what kind of ‘atta’ is delivered to the beneficiaries of the PDS system. Unscrupulous elements might take advantage of this for their own benefit.
  • None of the notifications by the Delhi Government regarding the doorstep ration scheme talks about an oversight mechanism. Who is going to foresee the actions of private agencies who are an essential part of this scheme? That question is still unanswered.
  • Although the scheme loudly declares how it is for the benefit of the public, it doesn’t consider how this will affect the livelihood of small ‘chakkis’. PDS beneficiaries usually approach ‘chakkis’ to process their ‘atta’. Delivery of already processed ‘atta’ and rice will affect the livelihood of these small ‘chakkis’.
  • Another issue with the scheme is how little it has considered the way of living of many of the beneficiaries of the PDS system. The shelf-life of wheat is three years and the shelf-life of ‘atta’ is only a few months. Most families don’t prefer to convert all their wheat to ‘atta’ on one go. Delivery of readymade ‘atta’ will lead to a situation where the beneficiaries are not able to choose anymore.
  • The notifications regarding doorstep delivery of ration are also unclear on how much will this cost the Government. This is important considering the involvement of private agencies in the delivery process. The chances are that the scheme will cost the exchequer a lot more than what is bargained for. It is not too far off to think of different ways in which the same money can be spent when the proposed scheme is not a significant improvement over the already existing system.
  • One of the benefits of fair price shops or ration shops in the presence of other buyers to prevent fraudulent practices. With doorstep delivery, this important function of the community eye becomes redundant. Also, there is no one to verify whether the delivery agent delivers the ration to the beneficiary or not. Even if it is delivered, there are chances of fraudulent practices regarding the weight of the ‘atta’ and ‘rice’.

Conclusion

From the above discussion, it is evident that the Centre’s act of shutting the door on the ‘doorstep delivery of ration scheme’ by the Delhi Government will do better than harm for the public despite the Centre being politically motivated.

The most important issue with the doorstep delivery scheme is that it is not well-thought-out. Many of the logistical and practical issues remain unaddressed.

The Arvind Kejriwal government’s intention to have alternate and more sustainable mode of delivery of ration is noteworthy but it is the implementation part that needs rethinking. Basing delivery again on Aadhar will defeat the purpose of the scheme. Non-biometric options can be a better alternative.

The scheme will be certainly helpful for those who are bedridden or ill. It will be also helpful in times when flour mills are closed (during a stringent lockdown). However, a lack of oversight and regulatory mechanism is bound to pose problems.

The Delhi Government’s attempt to start doorstep delivery of ration is half-witted at best. To put a system that lakhs of people are dependent on at risk without proper logistical thought will be an economic and political blunder.

However, if well-planned, this move has the potential to change the PDS in the country. Therefore, before such planning, the Government shouldn’t make any move. There are many other ways to help the vulnerable sections like food coupons and direct cash transfer.

References

  1. Sourav Rou Burman, “Explained: What is Delhi Government’s doorstep ration scheme; why has it been halted?”, available at: ndianexpress.com(last visited on June 26, 2021)
  2. Siraj Hussain and Jugal Mohapatra,” Why Home Delivery of Rations in Delhi Is a Trickier Proposition Than it Appears “, available at: thewire.ins (last visited on June 26, 2021)

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