The Delhi government Monday defended its Doorstep Delivery of Ration Scheme before the Delhi High Court, stating that it is a complete misconception that fair price shops cease to exist once the scheme is implemented. The government contended further that it is an optional scheme and beneficiaries can opt-out anytime and that not a single beneficiary has questioned the mode and manner of implementation of the scheme.
A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh emphasised that the fair price shops (FPS) should not be ousted from the system with the implementation of the scheme. The bench further observed, as the Centre submitted, that the FPS is an integral part of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), and therefore, cannot be done away.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Delhi government, submitted that it was a misconception that the State is seeking to do away with FPS. Arguing that in the last two years, home delivery services have been made available for all necessities, he stated that it is a complete misconception or wrongly implied that FPS seizes to exist. The doorstep delivery scheme is merely optional and beneficiaries can opt-out at any time, Singhvi said. He further said that with the evolution of technology, doorstep delivery has become the norm, and the proposed scheme is something that must be applauded and not criticised. States like Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka’s have put in place identical doorstep delivery schemes, he argued.
The court, which was hearing a plea by Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers Sangh, challenging the Delhi government’s scheme for doorstep delivery of ration, the Mukhya Mantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojna, listed the matter for further arguments on December 3.
During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, representing the Centre, said that the court should not allow any state to interfere with the structure of the NFSA and destroy its architecture. “As Union of India, we are only concerned with complete compliance of NFSA,” she submitted.
She praised the Delhi government for implementing the central government’s One Nation One Ration Card scheme under the NFSA in an exceedingly well manner. 4.2 lakh portability transactions were recorded in Delhi in the first three months, as migrant labourers have been coming to the national capital from the rest of the country.
The Centre has been opposing the Delhi government’s doorstep ration delivery scheme, arguing that the state cannot mitigate the architecture of the NFSA while implementing it. It has said that the fair price shops are an integral part of the NFSA and the state has to fall into the architecture of the law.
The Supreme Court had, on November 15, refused to entertain the Centre’s plea against the Delhi High Court’s order, as it was merely an interim order and the matter had already been listed before the High Court on November 22. The interim order had directed the AAP government not to stop or curtail the supply of foodgrains or flour to fair price shops.
The Centre had earlier told the High Court that as per the NFSA, it gives food grains to states, that have to take it from the godown of the Food Corporation of India to deliver it to the doorsteps of the fair price shops for distributing it to the beneficiaries. It had said the Delhi government’s home delivery of ration scheme is contrary to the NFSA and other states, including West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh, have different schemes than that of the Delhi government.
Defending its Doorstep Delivery of Ration in the National Capital Territory Scheme, the Delhi government has argued that the scheme will benefit the poor, who are now being threatened by fair price shop owners to opt-out of the home delivery mode, failing which, they will supposedly not be given rations. Since there was rampant corruption and inefficiency in the extant model of the Public Distribution System (PDS), huge leakages and siphoning off of subsidised food grains have been common. The scheme aims to ensure that clean packages of rice and wheat reach poor people.
69 lakh out of 72 lakh people have registered for the voluntary home delivery scheme, according to the Delhi government. The High Court had, on September 27, directed the Delhi government to issue communications to all fair price shop dealers, informing them of the particulars of ration card holders who have opted to receive their rations at their doorstep. Only thereafter, would the fair price shop dealers not be required to be supplied with the rations of the PDS beneficiaries who have opted for doorstep delivery.