The political tussle between the Delhi Government and the Centre has been going for a long time. Recently, The Delhi Government introduced a new scheme titled 'MukhyaMantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojna' (MMGGRY) in the year 2020 under the PDS system of the National Food Security Act 2013. This scheme aimed to distribute subsidized food grains to the doorstep of the beneficiaries but was rejected by the central government on March 25, 2021. The Central Government gave some suggestions which, included Changing the name of the scheme because the Central Government claimed that the word Mukhyamantri could not be used in a scheme which distributes Grains under the National Food Security Act 2013. Even After the implementation of all the suggestions, The Central Government Continues to block Delhi’s Door to Door Ration delivery Scheme. These constant frictions in the power-sharing framework between the federal and state governments are not only inconvenient, but are also slowing down Delhi's progress. This Article discusses in detail the importance of the scheme, legal implications and how the Central Government is acting as a barricade in the proper execution of Laws at India’s Capital
IMPORTANCE OF THE SCHEME
This scheme aims to provide doorstep delivery of Ration to the beneficiaries. Under the scheme, the Government aims to re-introduce e-PoS machines for ration distribution. In this system, the beneficiary's ration card number is entered into the device, followed by the beneficiary's biometrics (fingerprint scanning) or the Aadhaar card details. The ration will be distributed to the beneficiary only if the details are matched with the database.
There are several drawbacks to the existing system of public distribution system throughout the country. The Ration shops are supposed to be open every day but are functional only 3 to 4 days a week which creates long queues outside, and the poor have to struggle for long hours to get Ration which is their basic human right. Adulteration and erroneous measurement are also present across various public food distribution shops. The recent reports of routine inspection from the Union Food Secretary at 71 fair price shops in Delhi revealed that 30% of the Ration available for PDS is unfit for consumption. The Delhi food and civil supply minister also claimed that the food grains sent from the Centres Godowns were of poor quality.
The scheme, if implemented effectively, will check on potential hoarding, it will provide an easy way to obtain rations, especially for elderly people, pregnant women, and those with disabilities, and hence will prevent Rampant Corruption. This scheme assumes a very important role in these times however, in the present state it is only contributing to the spread of Coronavirus as the people are compelled to stand in line for long hours outside ration shops may contract the virus and pass it on to their children. This is the reason why the Delhi Government wanted to implement this scheme as soon as possible as a measure against the possible 3rd wave of the Coronavirus.
CENTRE'S OBJECTIONS AND THE RESPONSE OF DELHI GOVERNMENT
The ambitious scheme of the Delhi Government was about to roll out in early June and all the preparations were complete. The government had procured ration and allotted tenders, but the scheme was halted by the Central Government just 2 days before its rollout. The Lieutenant Governor of Delhi claimed that the scheme had been stopped due to two reasons, one of them being the non-approval by the Central Government. The second reason stated was that there is a pending petition filed by the Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers in the Delhi High Court. The L-G also said that the proposal of the scheme had not been rejected but has only been “ returned for reconsideration.”
Some Officials of the Central government claimed that the scheme was stopped because the approval was not sought before its implementation. In March, the central government voiced concerns about the plan, claiming that it could lead to ration cardholders paying more for grains and other needs than what is set by law. The initiative, according to the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, could make it impossible for subsidy users to relocate, stalling a move toward biometric verification of beneficiaries. The Centre also claimed that the Delhi Government could not use the Grains allotted under the National Food Security Act of 2013, but free to purchase from the open market and supply as they wish.
Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal claimed that there is no requirement of approval by the Central Government Legally but they did it out of courtesy. He claimed that they had sought approval of the Central Government not only once but five times. He alleged that if pizza, burgers, smartphones, and clothes can all be delivered to your door, why couldn't the Ration. In light of the Covid-19 outbreak, he added that the system should be extended nationwide. Otherwise "ration stores will operate as super-spreaders." He claimed the Centre was fighting everyone, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee, the governments of Maharashtra, Delhi, and Jharkhand, farmers, and the people of Lakshwadeep. According to the CMO, similar last-mile delivery systems have been launched in Andhra Pradesh and Haryana.
The Former food and civil supplies minister of Delhi said that the BJP and AAP are fighting over the issue is politically motivated the BJP wants to take credit for the program, as the Centre does not want it to be known as the "Mukhyamantri" (Chief Minister). He stated that there should be no politics involved in the distribution of rations to the poor, who have been bereft of jobs and other means of subsistence due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
TECHNICAL FEASIBILITY OF IMPLEMENTING THIS SCHEME
Although well in intention, this scheme pervaded with technical glitches at first. The system which the Delhi Government intends to use was apparently stopped in usage back in 2017 due to various problems posed by it. The machines to be used are Point of sales machines. They help in biometric authentication and also in recording the sale of ration. But this machine was not a success story due to lack of a stable network in the areas where the ration is intended to be distributed. Apart from this, there is not sufficient provision of backup power. Also, many poor people are not able to afford the smartphones on which the OTP functions effectively. Due to these reasons, the policy of distributing ration from door to door was stopped. The lack of technology and network availability tends to make the whole system quite cumbersome for the vulnerable group. Due to this, the beneficiaries generally incline towards the already established system of ration distribution due to its hassle-free nature. However, A Senior official of the Delhi Government claims to have overcome all these Technical glitches and says that Delhi has achieved 100% Aadhar seeding of its Ration Card holders. Hence, they are completely ready to use the e-PoS system again. However, the spat between the two governments have only left people suffering.
LEGAL IMPLICATIONS OF IMPLEMENTING THE RATION DELIVERY POLICY
The spat between the Delhi government and the Centre brings the public’s attention towards the legal provisions of this policy. The former has contended that it did not require legally to claim permission from the central government for bringing forth this online delivery of ration policy but sought for its permission nevertheless just for the sake of courtesy. Central government, on the other hand, has maintained that for making any changes in the policies related to ration, any state government requires the prior permission of the Centre as the same would need an amendment by the parliament in the National Food Security Act, 2013.
This contention can only be proved after looking at the relevant sections of the National Food Security Act 2013. Section 24 (1) of the aforementioned act mentions that the state government shall be responsible for implementing and monitoring various schemes (both central and their own) according to the guidelines of the central government. Also, according to section 40(1) of the same act, the state government can make rules regarding various schemes which are consistent with the act and are in accordance with the guidelines and provisions of the central government. In both the sections, certain authority has been delegated to the state governments for formulating and implementing such provisions as necessary for the effective implementation of this act. The only condition before them is that the same should be in accordance with the guidelines of the central government and should not be in contravention of the relevant act.
The policy of delivering ration through the online platform is certainly not against the provisions of the act. It is instead in the furtherance of this act by improving its effectiveness. The beneficiaries of the ration policy are one of those who are hit the hardest by the present COVID pandemic. Hence, they are covered under the vulnerable category given in the NFS act. Also, the central government has not given any guidelines regarding the online delivery provision. So, contending that launching of this policy goes against the central government’s provisions does not hold water. Whether the state government has to seek prior permission from the Centre before bringing any new policies is not given in the act. So, in terms of legality, the launching of this policy will be lawful from all aspects, and since the only change brought in the policy is the online delivering of ration, no amendment is required in the act since it is a policy introduced due to the unprecedented times and the change is only in the mode of distribution of ration.
The introduction of this policy in the present times is a boon, and a necessity since its launch would prevent the large crowd gathering in front of the Ration distributing shops. This would help the poor section of the society from getting infected from covid in lieu of fulfilling such basic requirements as food. But the policy should be implemented after it is made sure that it is technically feasible and no beneficiary has to suffer due to his/her lack of facilities like a smart phone or enough network requirement at his house for receiving the ration. The Centre, instead of badgering the Delhi government with the legal requirements required for the implementation of this policy should instead speed up the process of its implementation by making the necessary amendments in the act and by providing the states with enough machinery to rule out this scheme with efficiency. By the unwarranted tussle between the Centre and the Delhi Government, only the general public is suffering. The beneficiaries are in such an awkward position. Either they should stay home and buy the ration from other sources which would charge exorbitant prices, much beyond their means, or they should risk being infected by the coronavirus by standing in the large crowds of hungry people before the ration shops who are already battling with myriad other problems. No citizen should suffer due to the unruly behaviour of a government.
Title image: IndiaToday
This article has been written Modit Mendiratta and Soumya Mittal. They are both first year students of law at Gujarat National Law University.