The scheme will be legally valid only if Parliament amends the law
The Mamata Banerjee government's scheme for doorstep delivery of ration has been declared "illegal" by the Calcutta High Court. The court said there is no provision in the current food security law to allow doorstep delivery by state governments. The scheme will be legally valid only if Parliament amends the law or the state governments are specially empowered to do so.
In its order, a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court said, "State Government has transgressed the limit of delegation by obliging the Fair Price Shop dealers to distribute the rations to the beneficiaries at their doorstep in absence of any authority to that effect in the enabling Act i.e., 'NFS Act'. If the 'NFS Act' is amended by the wisdom of the Union Legislature i.e., Parliament for doorstep delivery of foodgrain to the beneficiaries or invest any such power to the State Government then only such a scheme can be made by the State and that can be said to be in sync with the enabling Act."
Home delivery of ration schemes were announced by several states including Delhi and Punjab, where also it has been challenged in courts. In May this year, the Delhi High Court set aside the Arvind Kejriwal government's scheme saying that it cannot use grains provided by the Centre for a doorstep delivery scheme. It allowed the Delhi Govt to bring another doorstep delivery scheme.
The "Duarey ration" scheme was launched by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in November last year and covers 10 crore poor people across the state. The state government had also announced financial help to ration dealers to purchase vehicles for making deliveries.
Since then, crores of poor people have been provided rations at their doorstep and the scheme came to be taken as a game changer in tackling hunger.
It is also believed to have played a major role in Ms Banerjee's stupendous victory over the BJP in the 2021 assembly elections. The ration scheme is said to be the biggest government outreach programme across the country and provides food grains to people at their doorstep. The scheme has also helped the government to connect directly to the people and build its reputation as a pro-people, pro-poor government. The state exchequer spends around Rs 25,000 crore on the scheme.
Ms Banerjee has often claimed that the Duarey Ration scheme will ensure that no one in the state goes hungry. Pitching it as a humanitarian measure, she had appealed to people not to go to court and oppose the scheme.
Even a BJP government in Jharkhand launched the Food Post Scheme for the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVGTs) to tackle malnutrition and lack of proper food. BJP-ruled Karnataka has also announced a similar scheme in October 2021 with Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announcing doorstep delivery of foodgrain.