Doorstep delivery of rations: Govt offer people chance to opt out of scheme
The Delhi government’s scheme to ensure doorstep delivery of rations is designed to automatically include all 7.16 million beneficiaries of the public distribution system in the capital, unless they choose to opt out. To that end, the food department has started sending text messages to ration card holders alerting them about the scheme and offering them the choice to opt out, said a senior government official.
Not responding to the message within 10 days of receipt means that the beneficiary is automatically included in the scheme. This, food rights activists say, will only confuse people. They argue that the government should have given people the choice to “opt in” rather than out.
“The government has started sending text messages to ration card holders from January 2, asking if they want to opt out of the scheme. People who do not respond to the message within 10 days will automatically qualify for doorstep delivery of monthly rations. Those who want to opt out can also approach the district office concerned of the food and civil supplies department in later stages,” said a senior official of the food department who did not wish to be identified.
Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, on January 25, had said that the long-awaited scheme will be launched in March.
Delhi has 1.75 million ration card holders – which translates to 7.16 million beneficiaries. Of the total ration card holders, 1.51 million are covered under priority household category of the National Food Security Act, 2013, while 0.17 million are covered under priority state household category, and the remaining 0.07 million come under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, show government records.
While those under the first two categories are entitled to 5 kilos of food grains a month, those under the third category are entitled to 25kg wheat, 10kg rice and 1kg sugar every month. These items are distributed to them from 2,010 fair price shops that are currently functional across the city.
The project was cleared by the Delhi cabinet in March 2018 but could not be rolled out because of several administrative issues, some of which even led to stand-offs between the elected government led by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and officials in charge of the department. Some of the administrative issues pertained to legal provisions under the food security law, which took more than one year to be resolved, said a senior government official.
The project was given a fresh push ahead of the assembly polls in Delhi in February 2020 and a pilot run for three months was conducted in five municipal wards of north Delhi. In July 2020, the new cabinet gave fresh approval to the project.
Shailendra Kumar, president of Delhi public distribution system welfare association, said: “People should have been given the choice of opting in rather than out. People need more time to understand the scheme. Many of them will choose not to respond to the text messages despite having apprehensions about inclusion.”
Saurabh Garg, secretary of the Delhi-based sarkari ration dealer sangh, echoed similar concerns. He said, “Nearly 30% of the phone numbers registered for ration in the city are non-functional. The record updating process is yet not complete. Also, disclosure of mobile number for availing of rations is voluntary. It is uncertain what would happen to such beneficiaries.”
The Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan, a city-based collective led by activists such as Anjali Bhardwaj, Annie Raja and Sipa Sinha, that works on food rights, has raised concerns about the implementation of the scheme and flagged those concerns through a letter sent to Kejriwal last month.
“The text messages sent to ration cardholders show that the government is making a presumption of consent for the home delivery of rations as it requires only those who do not want to avail of it to send a response message. As the proposed policy is going to significantly impact how people access their food grain entitlement under the National Food Security Act, it is important that people are given comprehensive information about the delivery mechanism and then be able to choose the preferred system,” said the letter, further highlighting concerns about “lack of transparency” in the process and more room for “corruption”.
Delhi government spokespersons refused to comment on the matter.