Govt may challenge HC order scrapping ration delivery plan

Published on Jun 25, 2022 07:23 AM IST

A Delhi government official said the state is planning to challenge the high court’s decision in the Supreme Court on the grounds that the scheme will help the underprivileged.

In 2018, the scheme was stalled after the LG did not approve it.
In 2018, the scheme was stalled after the LG did not approve it.
ByAlok KN Mishra

The Delhi government may challenge a decision by the Delhi high court to scrap the contentious doorstep delivery of ration scheme, which was aimed at providing specific food articles to the homes of Public Distribution System beneficiaries.

There are around 1.7 million ration card holders in the national capital who currently go to fair price shops to get the food articles they are entitled to. The government contends that the doorstep delivery of the ration scheme will make life easier, weed out leakage, and ensure quality products in the right measurement are given to beneficiaries.

On May 19, the Delhi high court scrapped the door-to-door ration delivery scheme, holding that the decision to roll out the scheme cannot be construed as a mere “executive” action as it did not have the approval of the Lieutenant Governor (LG), a representative of the Union government.

A Delhi government official said the state is planning to challenge the high court’s decision in the Supreme Court on the grounds that the scheme will help the underprivileged.

“The current ration distribution system has multiple leakages and many beneficiaries “do not get food in correct measures”, apart from concerns over quality, the official said, asking not to be named.

The Delhi government first announced the plan to deliver ration at the doorstep of beneficiaries in early 2018, and was embroiled in a sustained conflict with the Union government over it. The Centre contended that the plan violates the provisions of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and will deprive migrants of foodgrains.

The Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers Sangh, a group of FPS owners, in 2021 challenged the Mukhyamantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojana (doorstep ration delivery scheme) and demanded that it be declared ultra vires (beyond one’s legal power or authority).

In 2018, the scheme was stalled after the LG did not approve it.

Later, the scheme was floated afresh and was to be launched on March 25, 2021, but the Union food and consumer affairs ministry wrote to the Delhi government on March 19, 2021 raising two objections — the use of the term “mukhyamantri (chief minister)” for a scheme involving the distribution of food grains allocated under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), and that any change in the delivery mechanism requires an amendment in NSFA that can be done only by Parliament.

The Delhi government, on March 24, passed a Cabinet decision to remove the name “Mukhyamantri” from the scheme, and to implement doorstep delivery of ration as part of the existing NFS Act, 2013.

In June, the government sent the file back to LG, contending that its provisions are in accordance with the NFS Act, and that it will simultaneously implement the Centre’s “One Nation, One Ration Card” scheme.

On November 15, the Supreme Court declined to entertain two separate petitions (one by the Centre and another by FPS owners) against a Delhi high court interim order on September 27, 2021 that allowed the AAP government to stop supplying food grain to fixed price shops for patrons who have chosen doorstep delivery over physical collection of ration. The high court interim order also effectively gave a go-ahead to the state government scheme.

Then, on May 19, the Delhi high court scrapped the scheme, holding that the decision to roll out the scheme, cannot be construed as a mere “executive” action as it did not have the approval of the L-G.

While scrapping the scheme, the court, however, clarified that the Delhi government can make its own policy using its resources (foodgrain procured by the Delhi government). Foodgrain available for distribution under the PDS is sourced from the central pool under the NFSA, which the Centre provides for distribution among eligible beneficiaries.

Saurabh Gupta, secretary of Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers Sangh, said, “If the Delhi government moves the Supreme Court, we will challenge the government and fight the battle in the apex court as well. During the lockdown due to Covid the Delhi government procured ration at market price from the Food Corporation of India and distributed it among the needy and no one objected. If the government wants to distribute ration at doorsteps, it should procure from the market and distribute,” said Gupta.

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