The Delhi government Monday defended its Doorstep Delivery of Ration Scheme before the Delhi High Court, saying that it is a "complete misconception" that fair price shops cease to exist on implementation of the scheme.
The Delhi government contended that it is an optional scheme and beneficiaries can opt-out anytime and that not a single beneficiary has questioned the mode and manner of implementation of the scheme.
A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh said the emphasis is that the fair price shops (FPS) should not be ousted from the system with the implementation of the scheme.
"The Centre's submission is that FPS is an integral part of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), therefore, you cannot do away with that," the bench said.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Delhi government, submitted that it was a misconception that the State is seeking to do away with FPS.
"In last two years, there is home delivery of everything, be it COVID generated or non-COVID generated. It is a complete misconception or wrongly implied that FPS seizes to exist. This doorstep delivery is an optional scheme and beneficiaries can opt-out anytime. This is nothing but proxy litigation set up by somebody else who is not the petitioner," Mr Singhvi argued.
He further said with the march of technology, doorstep delivery becomes the norm, and this is something that needs applause and not criticism.
He said states like Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka's Bengaluru have identical doorstep delivery schemes.
The court, which was hearing a plea by Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers Sangh challenging the Delhi government's scheme for doorstep delivery of ration, Mukhymantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojna, listed the matter for further arguments on December 3.
During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, representing the Centre, said the court should not allow any state to interfere with the structure of NFSA and destroy its architecture.
"As Union of India, we are only concerned with complete compliance of NFSA," she submitted.
She praised the Delhi government for implementing the Central government's One Nation One Ration Card scheme under the NFSA in an "exceedingly well" manner and 4.2 lakh portability transactions were recorded in Delhi in the first three months as migrant labours are coming to the national capital from rest of the country.
The Centre has been opposing the Delhi government's doorstep ration delivery scheme, saying that the State cannot mitigate the architecture of the NFSA while implementing it.
The Centre has said the fair price shops are an integral part of the NFSA and the state has to fall into the architecture of the law.
The Supreme Court had on November 15 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 top court had said the September 27 order of the high court which was under challenge was an interim order and the matter is listed before the high court on November 22 and therefore it would not like to entertain it.
The Centre had earlier told the high court that as per the NFSA, it gives 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.
It had said the Delhi government's home delivery of ration scheme is contrary to NFSA and other states, including West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh, have different schemes than that of the Delhi government.
Defending its Doorstep Delivery of Ration in the National Capital territory Scheme, the Delhi government had said the scheme is for the poor who are now being threatened by fair price shop owners to opt-out of the home delivery mode otherwise they will not be given ration.
It had been said since there was rampant corruption and inefficiency in the extant model of the Public Distribution System (PDS) which results in huge leakages and siphoning off of subsidised food grains, the scheme will ensure that clean packages of rice and wheat reach poor people.
The Delhi government had said 69 lakh out of 72 lakh people have registered for the home delivery scheme which is a voluntary scheme.
The high court had on September 27 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 are not required to be supplied with the ration of the PDS beneficiaries who have opted for doorstep delivery.