Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Friday launched a sharp attack on Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, calling his plans for doorstep delivery of food rations in the national capital a “jumla" (a false promise) and accusing the ruling Aam Aadmi Party of links to the “ration mafia". The CM recently wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appealing for the scheme to be approved after it was blocked by the Centre last week. The AAP government says the plan would help around 72 lakh people in the city who have been hit hard economically because of the Covid lockdown.
Why can’t the Kejriwal government adopt the Centre’s ‘one nation, one ration card’ scheme, Prasad asked. He pointed out that so far only three states — West Bengal, Assam and Delhi— have failed to do so.
The verbal skirmishing over the scheme is the latest episode of a long-standing turf tussle between the AAP government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre that share responsibilities in the national capital.
The union ministry of food, civil supplies and consumer affairs released a detailed statement on why the doorstep delivery of ration scheme was turned down. Questioning the intent of the Kejriwal government behind the plan, the ministry in its statement said, “Firstly, certain acts of the Delhi government were giving doubts about transparency, motive/intention of the Delhi government" and “secondly, the said notification/proposal of the Delhi government seems to be at variance or are in conflict against some of the essential features of the NFSA which has come through an Act of Parliament".
It goes on to explain that though there is scope for flexibility in terms of implementation, still the features of the notification of the Delhi government cannot be accommodated within the existing National Food Security Act (NFSA). It points out that the Delhi government seems to be taking out the fair price shops, a basic pillar of the NFSA, of the public distribution system.
The central government has said it is a matter of concern that the Delhi government stopped using the electronic point of sales (ePoS) system across all ration shops in April after implementing it for four months. In fact, on June 8, food and consumer affairs secretary Sudhanshu Pandey had written to Delhi chief secretary Vijay Dev, asking for the latter’s intervention for the “expeditious resumption" of the ePoS devices in all fair price shops of Delhi for transparency in distribution of food grain and ensure the implementation of ‘one nation one ration card’ at the earliest. The union consumer affairs ministry has said that when the whole nation is moving towards a transparent authenticated system of ration distribution, even in areas where the network and broadband connectivity is low, the Delhi government’s action of stopping ePoS was baffling and still remains so.
During the four months that the ePoS system was implemented in Delhi, the central government said that more than four lakh bogus ration cards were weeded out. It went on to ask, “Did Delhi government get perturbed about weeding out of illegal ration cards?" It further asked that when almost 30% of all transactions in ration shops in Delhi were “portability transactions", implying that people were beginning to avail its benefit at any new locality they were shifting into, why did the Delhi government not think about their welfare when it stopped the ePoS plan? Why should the city with perhaps the highest availability of broadband services and network activity have shockingly zero ePoS transactions when states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh show almost 100% biometric authentication ration delivery, and even in states in the Northeast, more than 80% to 90% of ration is delivered is via the ePoS, the Centre asked.
In yet another charge questioning the intent of the Delhi government, the union food and consumer affairs ministry pointed out that when last year central agencies had inspected 72 fair price ration shops across Delhi and of the 130 samples collected, almost 90 were found to be substandard. The Centre had written to the Delhi government for action to be taken against those particular ration shop owners, but nothing happened. It termed the argument that substandard ration had come from central agencies an “eyewash". “The fact that so many samples were found to be substandard from just 72 of the 2,000 ration shops in Delhi points to the fact that some illegal nexus of replacing good quality ration with substandard ration within Delhi was/is existing," it argued.
“Well established and highly popular transparent system of ration distributed to the poor people of India, is now being planned by the Delhi government to be dismantled, bypassed and substituted by something which is not transparent and possibly of entrenched with one centralised distribution mafia, which is now only going to make life miserable for the weaker sections of Delhi," the ministry said.
The union government is not just suspicious of the intent of the Kejriwal government, it has also alleged that exhaustive groundwork and thorough thinking has not gone into the planning of the doorstep delivery scheme. For instance, there is no clarity on the choice of the ration that a beneficiary has, or how many times does a beneficiary have to say whether it would be wheat or wheat flour ( atta), it says. How would the Delhi government ask for the preference from 72 lakh beneficiaries every month and why is the Delhi government bypassing the existing ePoS-enabled network of ration shops with a centralised delivery mechanism through a contractual agency, the union government asked. In case, the agency that has been contracted to deliver the ration at the doorstep of the poor defaults, what will happen to the food security of the poor, the Centre wants to know.
Terming the BJP “Bharatiya Jhagda Party", implying it had a quarrelsome nature, Delhi deputy chief minister asked why, when pizzas can be home-delivered, the same cannot be done with ration. Nation-building will happen when the Centre works with the state governments, not by fighting them, he said on Friday.
The central government says that “replacement of well spread out mohalla/locality based ration shops with some kind of centralised distribution is not acceptable". Further accusing the Kejriwal government of falling prey to the ration mafia, the ministry says, “The mafia which is on the run in the country especially in the public distribution system is now appeared to be being brought back in through some other back channels. The activities of the Delhi government during the last three years on this front seem to be pointing to the same." As per the NFSA, doorstep delivery means delivery to fair price shops as defined in the Act, which is at variance with the notification of the Delhi government. The ministry has also termed the comparison of delivery of ration to the delivery of pizzas “irrational".
The central government reiterated that it has no objection if a separate scheme is made without mixing elements of the NFSA.
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