The Delhi government’s scheme for doorstep delivery of ration cannot be sustained in law in the absence of approval from the Lieutenant Governor and the Centre, the Delhi High Court was told on Monday.
The Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers Sangh (DSRDS), which has challenged the AAP government’s Mukhymantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojna, said before a bench headed by Justice Vipin Sanghi that the scheme fell foul of the law, including the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
“The state government does not have the power to make any such scheme without the concurrence of the L-G (Delhi lieutenant governor) and the central government,” the DSRDS argued.
It also said that any notification pertaining to the food security law has to be mandatorily published under the signature of the L-G.
On being asked if fair price shops (FPS) were ready to supply door-to-door, lawyer V Shrivastav, appearing for the petitioner, replied, “We are ready but the central government has to say yes because it is their food grain.” The DSRDS is an association that represents FPS owners.
The court, which has reserved its verdict on the challenge to the scheme, also asked the Delhi government as to how its doorstep delivery scheme was an improvement on the existing FPS model and how did it allege the present system has corruption.
“You are brandishing the whole community of FPS owners by the same brush. You are saying that they’re all corrupt. What the L-G has told you is you’re only basically replacing one set of persons by another. Are you suggesting that those accepting your tender are coming from an outer planet?” it said.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Delhi government, said that in the new system, a contractor would lose the tender in case of misconduct, and contended that the court was not examining whether the new regime would ensure 100 per cent sanitisation.
He informed that the implementation of the scheme would be monitored by state-owned corporations, and the city government was entitled to change the system to make it “significantly better” and minimise malpractices.
FPS owners were found to be in a system which has leakages, the advocate said.
Mr Singhvi said that the scheme was approved by the council of ministers and the law does not empower the L-G to keep referring back to the council any difference of opinion for re-consideration. The Delhi government has defended the scheme on the ground that it was for the poor and has alleged that the poor have been threatened by FPS owners that if they don’t opt-out of the home delivery mode, they will not get ration.
The AAP government had earlier stated that there was a “complete misconception” that fair price shops would cease to exist on implementation of the scheme.
It had said states like Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka’s Bengaluru have identical doorstep delivery schemes.
The Centre has opposed the Delhi government’s doorstep ration delivery scheme, saying that the State could mitigate the architecture of the NFSA while implementing it.
It had earlier said the court should not allow any state government to interfere with the structure of NFSA and destroy its architecture and that FPS are an integral part of the Act.
The Centre had explained that as per the NFSA, it gave food grains to states which have to take it from the godown of the Food Corporation of India to deliver it to the doorsteps of fair price shops for distributing it to the beneficiaries.
The Supreme Court had on November 15, 2021 refused to entertain the Centre’s plea against the Delhi High Court order directing the AAP government not to stop or curtail the supply of foodgrains or flour to fair price shops.
The high court had on September 27 last year directed the Delhi government to issue communications to all the fair price shop dealers informing them of the particulars of ration cardholders who have opted to receive their rations at doorsteps.
It had said only thereafter, the fair price shops dealers were not required to be supplied with the ration of the PDS beneficiaries who have opted for the other scheme.