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Letter to Kejriwal: Home delivery of ration in Delhi to 'exacerbate' anxiety, distress

Counterview Desk

A letter to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, written “on behalf of” the civil rights organisation Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan (DRRAA)*, has expressed concern regarding the proposed scheme for home delivery of rations,, stating, the 'CM Ghar-Ghar Ration Scheme' is being pushed by the government without any public consultation, disclosure of relevant information, awareness creation and without any piloting of the delivery mechanism.
Asking the government to “immediately put on hold its proposal for home delivery of rations”, the letter insists, there shouldn’t be any changes to the delivery mechanism of foodgrains “in a hasty, non-transparent manner”, as it would “exacerbate the anxiety and distress among people.”
The letter demanded, instead, the government must use “all available fiscal resources to improve food security by increasing coverage of the population in Delhi under public distribution system (as scores of deserving and vulnerable households have been left out due to quotas) and enhancing entitlements by including pulses and oil in PDS.”

Text:

We are writing to you to express our concern regarding the Delhi government’s proposal on home delivery of rations. In the current circumstances of unprecedented economic distress and unemployment, the foodgrains provided under National Food Security Act (NFSA) are a lifeline for the poor and marginalised in Delhi.
We are extremely concerned to note that the proposal for home delivery of rations, which will be a significant departure from the current system, is being pushed through without any public consultation, disclosure of relevant information, awareness creation and without any piloting of the delivery mechanism.

1. Lack of transparency regarding the proposed policy of home delivery of rations:

There is complete lack of transparency about the proposal. People have got to know of the proposal only through SMSes sent on January 2, 2021 which stated that the government will soon launch CM Ghar-Ghar Ration Scheme under which Atta (in place of wheat) and rice will be home delivered in packets.
The message further stated an additional fee will be payable for processing of wheat into Atta, though the amount is not disclosed. The message ends by saying that those wanting to opt out of the scheme are required to send a message to a particular number. 
A subsequent message stated that the last date for sending a response was January 11, 2021 by 6 pm. No further details about the policy have been shared with ration cardholders and nor is any information or a copy of the proposed policy available in the public domain.
Critical particulars of information like: quantity of atta to be provided per person, fee payable for processing of atta to wheat, fee payable for delivery, mechanism for scheduling home delivery, protocol to be followed in case people are not home at the time of delivery, oversight and accountability mechanisms to monitor home delivery, mechanism for recording sale of ration and whether the delivery will be done by government officials or it will be outsourced to a company/agency are not known.
Volunteers of DRRAA have spoken to officials in several circle offices of the Food Department in Delhi seeking details of this proposal and it is shocking to note that even these officials are in the dark about the modalities of the policy. None of them were able to provide the afore-mentioned particulars and claimed to not even have a copy of the policy. Expecting people to take a decision in such a scenario where no relevant details of the proposed policy are available in the public domain is meaningless.
Delivery of foodgrains at individual homes, away from public eye, is likely to increase scope for corruption, siphoning of grains and extortion
It is pertinent to point out that given the fact that many people, especially those with meagre economic means, often do not having a working mobile phone connection or are forced to change their numbers due to inability to recharge in a timely manner, it is likely that many of the nearly 18 lakh households who have ration cards may have not even received the SMS intimation.

2. Violation of CIC order requiring proactive disclosure of draft policies:

Opacity in policy formulating not just prevents informed decision making by people but is also a violation of the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy of the government and of the Right to Information Act. 
In its decision in July 2010, the Central Information Commission had directed the Chief Secretary of Delhi “to develop a credible mechanism in all departments for proactive and timely disclosure of draft legislations/ policies and amendments thereto or to existing laws/ policies in the public domain, as required under Section 4(1)(c) of the RTI Act, during the process of their formulation and before finalization” (CIC/SG/C/2010/000345+000400/8440).
Further the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy of 2014, requires public disclosure of draft legislations (including principal and subordinate legislation) and inviting public feedback/comments on the proposal. No details of the proposed policy could be located on the website of the Food Department of Delhi or the Delhi government’s Food Security portal and no such details could be obtained from officials of the Circle Office. Further, we have not come across any communication inviting public feedback/comments.

3. Presumption of consent:

The SMSes sent to ration cardholders show that the government is making a presumption of consent for the proposal of home delivery of rations as it requires only those who do not want to avail of it, to send a message. 
As the proposed policy is going to significantly impact how people access their foodgrain entitlement under the NFSA, it is important that people are given comprehensive information about the delivery mechanism and then be able to choose the preferred system. We fail to understand the need for the government to partake in such hurried and unethical practices.

4. Absence of monitoring mechanism:

Delivery of foodgrains at individual homes, away from the public eye, is likely to increase the chances and scope for corruption, siphoning of grains and extortion. In the current scenario, where there is poor oversight and monitoring of the existing 2000 ration shops in Delhi, it is unclear how the administration will carry out oversight of large number of delivery persons delivering to lakhs of homes.
It is a matter of grave concern that despite passage of 7 years since the implementation of the National Food Security Act in Delhi, the state government has not put in place rules to operationalise the statutory provisions related to transparency and accountability. The NFSA requires state governments to constitute a State Food Commission, undertake periodic social audits, make rules for grievance redress.
However, till date, despite orders from the Delhi High Court, the government has not taken action on these issues. Delhi is one of the few states in the country which has not promulgated rules for grievance redress under the NFSA. No independent State Food Commission is functional in Delhi and no social audits have been undertaken.
***
Given these issues we call upon the Delhi government to immediately put on hold its proposal for home delivery of rations. The government must not make any changes to the delivery mechanism of foodgrains in a hasty, non-transparent manner which will exacerbate the anxiety and distress among people.
Disruptions in the Public Distribution System (PDS) cause extreme hardship and exacerbate vulnerabilities of marginalised households. In the past when policy changes were rolled out in a hurried manner, for instance when Aadhaar based authentication through Point of Sale devices was made mandatory, it resulted in large scale exclusion of the poorest. Government figures showed that nearly 4 lakh cardholders were unable to access their rations and finally the policy was withdrawn. 
We urge the government to place all the relevant information about the proposed policy of home delivery of rations in the public domain and hold public consultations and invite feedback. Further, the government could undertake a pilot in some areas of Delhi and transparently share results of the same to enable informed decision making.
Given the current economic conditions, the government must use all available fiscal resources to improve food security, by increasing coverage of the population in Delhi under PDS (as scores of deserving and vulnerable households have been left out due to quotas) and enhancing entitlements by including pulses and oil in PDS.
---
*Anjali Bhardwaj, Annie Raja, Dipa Sinha, Amrita Johri, Aysha, Rajender Kumar, Shakeel, Deepti Bharti, Shreya Sen, Rushda, Ashok Kumar, Aditi Diwedi, Snehlata, Neelesh, Anita, Sagarika Ghatak, Indranil, Richa

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