Explained: Why HC quashed Delhi govt’s doorstep ration delivery scheme

Delhi High Court Thursday Suggested scheme discontinued To deliver food rations in the national capital. From the moment the government of Arvind Kejriwal gave the green light to the proposal in 2018, he faced stiff opposition from the deputy governor as well as the central government on technical grounds. When the AAP government decided to go ahead with the scheme in 2021 despite opposition, the matter reached the Supreme Court. In its judgment, the High Commission agreed with LG’s view and said the scheme could not be implemented in its current form.

The scheme and obstacles

In March 2018, the Delhi Cabinet approved a scheme to deliver food rations at the doorstep of beneficiaries under the Targeted Public Distribution System. It was called ‘Mukhya Mantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojna’. The first objection to the plan was answered only by the deputy governor, who said it might not eliminate corruption – one of the scheme’s stated goals – because it sought only to replace old service providers with new ones. LG also advised the AAP government to present the matter to the center for approval.

However, in 2021 the Delhi government decided to go ahead with the plan despite LG’s reiteration of its earlier objections. The scheme was notified in February 2021, and the center in March contested its name. The center also said that it “would have no objection if a separate plan was drawn up by the state government without mixing elements of the NFSA (National Food Security Act) food grain.”

After that, the Delhi government dropped “Mukhya Mantri” from the name and decided to go ahead with implementation. She also made it clear that the current fair price stores would not close and people would be given a choice to choose.

Suggested implementation

The stock of food grains for the scheme was to be raised by the mills set up with the Delhi State Civil Supply Corporation Limited and transferred to the milling units for processing and packing. The packed items were then delivered at designated fair price stores to be set up by the Consumer Wholesale Cooperative Store in Delhi. The final step involved the delivery of the packaged items at the beneficiaries’ doorstep through direct home delivery agencies set up by the government.

court battle

Delhi ration dealers Sarkari, Sangh and the Delhi Ration Dealers Association moved the High Court last year to challenge the scheme and bids issued by the Delhi government in January 2021. They argued that the scheme bypassed existing fair price store owners. The tenders were for the selection of home delivery agencies. The unions argued that the NFSA had nowhere thought to do away with the existing fair price shop structure, and it was not right to replace it with an entirely new set of merchants. The center, while supporting the petitions, asserted that the bids and scheme contravened the National Food Safety Authority (NFSA). It claimed that the Delhi government could not tamper with the structure of the Public Distribution System, which had fair price stores as an integral part of the distribution mechanism.

Court dicision

A department headed by Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi opined that the state could offer the delivery of food grains to the door of recipients, but with its own resources. The court also said that the Delhi government could not proceed with the implementation of the scheme without addressing the concerns of the existing FPS owners about their financial viability which it considered legally protected.

The court also agreed with LG’s view that the scheme required central government approval because NFSA is a law enacted by Parliament.

The court further noted that the Delhi Cabinet was obligated to refer the matter to the President for a decision after a difference of opinion with LG. The Supreme Court held that the scheme would necessarily have to be brought up in the name of LG, adding that the Cabinet’s approval in itself could not be described as an action by the Government of Delhi or even an enforcement action.

LG powers in Delhi

The Delhi High Court has also deliberated on the current constitutional scheme in Delhi. The Court held that the powers of the Delhi Government are not absolute. He noted that while there may be no necessity, under the constitutional scheme, for a Cabinet decision requiring LG’s approval, “there is an obligation on the CM to report a Cabinet decision to the Deputy Governor.”

She said that in cases where disagreements arise between the Cabinet and Lg, the matter may be referred to the President for a final call.

Thereafter, the Deputy Governor shall act in accordance with such decision of the President. Pending such a decision, should the Deputy Governor require urgent action, he may act, and give directions in the matter, as he considers necessary.”

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