Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government's doorstep ration delivery scheme in Delhi has been stalled for the third time this year by the central government.

In March 2021, the scheme, which was originally called Mukhyamantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojana, was rejected by the Centre. On June 5, the ration project was halted because the Centre claimed that the Delhi government had not sought its approval for the scheme before implementation.

On June 23 again, the Centre flagged certain "concerns and shortcomings" with the scheme. One such concern was that the Delhi government had not mentioned prices of ration under home delivery. While addressing a press conference on June 23, Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said the Centre had raised concerns regarding free movement of vehicles during traffic hours and if ration would reach narrow lanes and multi-storey buildings. "... Every beneficiary shall expect the vehicle in front of their door. If not, there may be issues of favouritism and nepotism," read the letter the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution wrote to the Food & Civil Supplies Department of the Delhi government.

Sisodia added that this rejection came when Delhi had not even applied for any kind of approval with the Centre.

So, let's understand what does the doorstep ration delivery scheme entail, what is the system that already exists to ensure the poor have access to ration and what is its current status.

What is Delhi government's doorstep ration delivery scheme?

In this proposed scheme by the Delhi government, food grains will be delivered at the doorstep of beneficiaries. It will be lifted by millers selected by the Delhi State Civil Supplies Corporation Ltd (DSCSC) from six godowns of the Food Corporation of India (FCI).

Further, this would be distributed by the Delhi Consumer's Cooperative Wholesale Store Ltd (DCCWS), which runs the fair price shops, who will later appoint Direct to Home Delivery Agencies (DHD) for doorstep distribution.

The beneficiaries enrolled in the scheme shall be notified via SMS by the DHD agency in advance. The packed ration shall be handed over to the beneficiary only after their successful biometric authentication using the e-POS device. Finally, an e-POD (Proof of Delivery) shall be captured for records. This scheme falls under the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA), 2013.

However, food rights activists have raised concerns regarding the proposed policy. In a letter to the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan (DRRAA), a food rights campaign, highlighted issues such as the lack of transparency and public consultation in the drafting of the policy, the absence of a monitoring mechanism and the chances of ineligible beneficiaries getting ration.

What is NFSA?

NFSA or the Right to Food Act guarantees legal rights on food and promises access to adequate quantity and quality food at affordable prices to every Indian citizen. Passed in 2013, the NFSA covers up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population at a national level under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). Under the NFSA, Delhi has about 17.78 lakh ration card holding families, according to data from the Department of Food, Supplies and Consumer Affairs, GNCT of Delhi. They are divided into three categories: 15.12 lakh priority households (PR), 1.73 lakh priority state households (PRS), and 68,468 Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) families.

The beneficiaries coming under the PR and PRS categories are entitled to 5 kg of food grains per month (Rs 3/kg for rice and Rs 2/kg for wheat), while AAY households receive 35 kg of food grains per household per month at the same subsidised price and 1 kg sugar at Rs 13.5 per kg additionally. The distribution is currently managed by a network of more than 2,000 licensed Fair Price Shops. As of March 31, 2020, there are 2,029 ration shops with an average of 863 ration cards for each shop, according to the 2020-21 Economic Survey of Delhi. At 17.58%, North West Delhi has the highest number of ration card holders.

While the central government is in charge of the procurement, storage, transportation and bulk allocation of food grains, the states are responsible for the identification of beneficiaries and distribution.

What is Public Distribution System?

The Public Distribution System (PDS) is a food security system which falls under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution and is managed by the Food Corporation of India. The PDS system is a chain of government regulated ration shops which are equally operated by the central and state governments in distributing basic food and non-food commodities at subsidised prices. The commodities include wheat, rice, sugar, pulses, salt, edible oils and kerosene.

Status of food distribution in 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in March 2020, announced a relief package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKAY) for 80 crore poor people. This was announced to provide 5 kg of food grains to each person in a household and 1 kg of preferred pulses to each household free of cost every month between March and June 2020. It was further extended for a period of five months (June to November 2020).

To further enhance the benefit of the scheme, the government announced Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan to provide free food grains to about eight crore non-ration card holders between May and June 2020.

According to the central government, about 321 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of food grains were supplied to states and Union territories (UTs) for distribution under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). Of these, about 305 LMT of food grains were lifted by state governments and UTs and 298 LMT were distributed across the country. This means that around 93% of food grains were distributed to eligible beneficiaries under NFSA and PDS and 7% were not lifted by eligible beneficiaries.

However, a large proportion of the poor are not covered under the PDS leading to major food insecurity crises, especially among migrants due to the COVID-19 lockdown. More than 100 million people were excluded from the PDS because the government determines population figures based on data from Census 2011, according to academics Jean Drèze, Reetika Khera and Meghana Mungikar, IndiaSpend reported on April 16, 2020.

According to the NFSA, the PDS is supposed to cover 67% of the population or 814 million people — 75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas. But this figure was relevant when the NFSA was implemented in 2013. Over the last 10 years, India's population is estimated to have increased from 1,210 million in 2011 to 1,372 million in 2020 — an increase of 161 million people. In this case, as per the NFSA, 67% of the current projected population of 1,372 million or 922 million people should be covered under the PDS instead of the 814 million people.

Current Scenario

Due to the severe impact of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the central government announced plans to implement the PM-GKAY for the months of May and June, 2021. On June 7, 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of PMGKAY scheme for a period of five months (June to November 2021). According to PIB release on June 23, a total allocation of 79 LMT has been done for this purpose.

As of now, for the months of May and June about 96% or 76 LMT have been lifted by the states and UTs and nearly 60% or 23 LMT has been distributed to ration card holders. However, the Centre is yet to restart the Atma Nirbhar scheme for non-ration card holders.