Raising critical objections to the Delhi government's doorstep ration delivery scheme, Union Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey on Wednesday said 72 lakh ration card holders in the national capital may end up buying foodgrains at a higher rate than Rs 1-3 per kg fixed under a central law if the proposed scheme is implemented.
Besides, Delhi beneficiaries who keep changing their residence from one locality to another will get an option to choose only once a year the fair price shop (FPS) from where they intend to buy the subsidised foodgrains, while such option is being given every month under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) enacted by the central government, he said.
Also, biometric authenticated distribution of ration is not happening in Delhi despite the centre ensuring installation of electronic point of sale (ePoS) machines in about 2018 FPSs in the Union Territory, Mr Pandey said and raised concern about alleged diversion of foodgrains.
Mr Pandey said the centre has already flagged concerns with the Delhi government and asked not to implement the ''Mukhya Mantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojana'' -- which is scheduled to start from March 25 -- saying it deviates from the NFSA.
A day after the centre raised objections, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had on March 20 said the scheme of his government would not have any name. He, however, asserted, "We will accept all conditions of the centre but will not allow any obstruction in implementation of the scheme."
However, giving point-by-point objections to the Delhi's proposed scheme, Mr Pandey told PTI, "This is a complete deviation from NFSA. This is not permissible."
Firstly, the Delhi government cannot launch its own scheme using the subsidised foodgrains provided by the central government under NFSA, he said.
Secondly, it cannot be silent on rates at which it will sell ration under the proposed scheme as its February 20 notification clearly says that "the cost of subsidised foodgrains, and a specified amount as milling/conversion charges will be collected from the beneficiaries."
"This means conversion and packaging charges will be collected from the beneficiaries. ...The price at which ration will be sold to beneficiaries will be more than what has been fixed under NFSA," he said.
Also, the milling and packaging charges would keep changing every year with change in contractor. There is no fixed rate as it keeps changing every year, he explained.
Whereas under NSFA, the centre has fixed a uniform subsidised rate for foodgrains at Rs 1-3 per kg across the country. The rates have not been changed since 2013 when the law was passed in Parliament.
The Delhi government's Mukhya Mantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojana plans to distribute "packaged wheat flour instead of wheat and cleaned/packaged rice" at the doorstep of beneficiaries at "affordable prices".
Asked why the centre was raising objections ahead of the launch of the scheme as the Delhi notification was issued last month, the Secretary said: "The Delhi government had not sent the notification with any letter. It came as a routine. It was put up and the department examined and thereafter we came to know about the gaps."
The Delhi government has "misinterpreted" Section 24 of the NFSA on doorstep delivery. The Act clearly states a doorstep delivery is to an FPS outlet and not the beneficiary's home.
On the option to choose FPS, the Secretary said while NFSA gives a choice to a beneficiary to choose FPS every month, the Delhi government is restricting it to once a year even though the data shows high intra-state movement of beneficiaries form one locality to another for jobs or other reasons.
About 35 per cent portable transactions were recorded between January and April of 2018 in the national capital when the ration card portability scheme was first launched here, before the ''One Nation, One Ration Card'' scheme was introduced, he said.
"If the beneficiary is given an option to change only once a year then it becomes a tricky situation," he noted.
On biometric authenticated distribution of ration, the Secretary said despite ePoS machines installed, the Delhi government has not yet activated them even though it does not have any internet or broadband related problems.
"In Delhi, not even one gram foodgrain is distributed with biometric authentication. There is 100 per cent biometrically authenticated distribution in UP and other states," he said, adding that several meetings have been held requesting it to expedite the implementation.
Mr Pandey also observed that operating via FPSs is more convenient in Delhi as it has a higher number of FPS for covering 72 lakh beneficiaries when compared to other states where beneficiaries are much higher.
Stating that distribution of subsidised foodgrains to the poor should not become a "casualty" with implementation of this new scheme, he said, "Therefore, we have told the Delhi government clearly to either come out with its own scheme or can add to a central scheme, components like distribution of edible oil, sugar and other items which some others states are doing."
Currently, NFSA provides coverage for about 81 crore people, comprising 67 per cent of the country's total population. In Delhi, there are 72 lakh beneficiaries.