Just when the Delhi chief minister’s food security sop seemed to be working for her, some hiccups before elections
Jasleen Kaur | October 19, 2013
In one-day cricket parlance, it was going all according to the script for the Congress: a big-ticket announcement to get on with the initial overs ahead of a much-discussed election, a bit of procrastination to amble by during the slow middle overs, and rollout of the scheme, even if a partial one, ahead of the elections to step up the tempo in the late overs.
But then come the slog overs, and the shock they bring along. And, suddenly, the feel of a confident smile is turning slightly sour for a surly Congress party and Sheila Dikshit’s Delhi government.
With the supreme court’s September 23 ruling that the Aadhaar card cannot be mandatory for people to get essential services and government benefits, the Congress, more so its government in Delhi, essential to win more for pride and prestige than anything else, has been stumped – at least momentarily. Reason: the Dikshit administration had made the card compulsory to receive several benefits, including subsidised food.
The result: the state government has to look for alternative recourse/s in the eleventh hour before the elections.
The national food security scheme was the UPA government’s most well planned action in the run-up to elections in several states, including Delhi, and the big one for Lok Sabha scheduled next year. First off the blocks even before the food security bill was tabled, discussed and passed by both houses of parliament, Sheila Dikshit had rolled out the food security scheme following an ordinance issued by the UPA. The idea, according to political observers, was to tap into 73 lakh people in JJ (or slum) clusters and resettlement colonies – a huge 67 percent of Delhi’s population of 1.68 crore – by giving them subsidised food and try and get them to vote for the Congress in the assembly elections, scheduled for November.
So what now? A day after the apex court’s ruling, Sajjan Singh Yadav, secretary-cum-commissioner in the Delhi government’s food and supply department told Governance Now: “We haven’t seen the order yet. But yes we will have to abide by supreme court’s directions. It (Aadhaar card) was made mandatory to avoid duplication and to ensure right persons get the entitlement. If not this (after the court’s ruling), we might ask for an alternate document (from beneficiaries).”
Asked about the apex court’s ruling, chief minister Dikshit told reporters, “Ninety-nine percent of Delhi citizens have Aadhaar cards. We have spent crores on it. We will wait for the centre’s guidance. If we are allowed to link social schemes with Aadhaar, then we will do it. But as of now, we will wait.”
That wait-and-watch game, however, might not be the only food for thought, and apprehension, especially at the bureaucratic level. The very purpose for which the big idea was proposed, and rolled out, could well come in the way of a total rollout. As a senior official at the food and supply department who is involved in the scheme’s implementation, said, “All officers would be deployed on election duty for the next two months. They would be free only in December. Then they would be deployed for the general elections and would be free only after June. The actual work (reaching subsidised food to (other 41 lakh beneficiaries) would begin only after that.” That will create a situation where some will get the benefit and most will not. Not the percept recipe for a government seeking re-election.
On ground, Congress may have had a winner
Four kilograms of wheat and 1 kg rice at Rs 2 and Rs 3 per kg, respectively, per person for each eligible household will be the monthly take-home promised by the poll-bound Delhi government to priority households as part of the scheme which aims to cover 73 lakh people in two phases.
Of the total, 32 lakh people from 6.27 lakh below poverty line (BPL) households, JJ and resettlement cards and Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) are being drawn for the first phase. While all of them have started getting ration at the new subsidised rates from September 1, it would take a long time before the other 41 lakh people are actually covered under the food security scheme in Delhi.
Dal Singh, 50, is one of those 41 lakh people. A daily wage labourer who earns about Rs 300 a day, Singh has lived for the last 25 years at Khazan Basti, in west Delhi’s Mayapuri area, a major hub of small scale industries. Never entitled to get ration under public distribution system (PDS) since he did not get any card from Delhi government, Singh said he spends around Rs 1,000 every month on food for his family of four. “It is so difficult to run the house (given the expenses),” he said. “I was forced to pull the children out of school, and my son, just 14, now works in a factory.”
But a small receipt has come as a ray of hope – Singh is scheduled to be included in the list of people who are eligible for a new smart card to draw benefits of the food security scheme.
In the same locality, Satish Kumar, 19, is the kind of person who would bring a smile on to every Congress leader’s face, now slightly fazed in face of the supreme court ruling. Living with four other family members in a 12x8 feet house, Kumar’s family holds BPL card and is among those that began getting subsidised ration from September 1.
A first-time voter, Kumar said he was toying with the idea of voting for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) but implementation of the food security scheme has forced him to rethink. “They (AAP) might talk about something new but all we know is that the (Congress) government has helped us get food at very low prices. Why shouldn’t we vote for them?” he asked quizzically.
“People living here are not educated and whoever gives them food is seen as a good leader. Who will remember the scams if you are getting ration cheap?” he asked, alluding to the allegations of multiple scams against UPA leaders and large-scale corruption allegedly wrought by the Dikshit government in Delhi.
Similar is the story of Sheila Devi, 45. Resident of a slum area of Mayapuri, Sheila said her family earlier got 23 kg wheat and 10 kg rice every month at Rs 4.80 and Rs 6.30 per kg, respectively, from the PDS outlet. The cost came to around Rs 180.
But that, she stressed, was never sufficient for her family of 13 members, which includes five children. The result: they had to buy extra ration – around 10 kg wheat at Rs 20 per kg and 20-30 kg rice at Rs 30 per kg – from private grocery. That cost the family an additional Rs 1,000 per month.
The Delhi government’s game-changer of a scheme, she emphasized, changed all that. Among the first few women to get the new smart card issued under the national food security scheme, Sheila, who holds a BPL card, now get wheat at Rs 2 per kg and rice at Rs 3 per kg – as part of the scheme each family member gets 4 kg wheat and 1 kg rice each month. Her math now stands at less than Rs 100 a month.
“We save a lot of money and can use this money to buy ration from outside as well,” she said. With two family members still to get Aadhaar numbers, and thus yet to get ration, Sheila said they get a monthly quota of 24 kg wheat and 6 kg rice at present. Once the two are added to the list, the entitlement would increase to 32 kg wheat and 8 kg rice, though there might be some relief in store with the apex court’s ruling.
“I don’t know if they (Delhi government) launched this food scheme with an eye on the elections or keeping us in mind. But the fact is that we are drawing the benefits,” she said.
Sheila’s neighbour, Humera Bano, 40, a jhuggi ration card (JRC) holder, spent around Rs 300 (buying wheat at Rs 7.05 per kg and rice for Rs 9.25 per kg) earlier on PDS ration. The family of eight now gets it for less than Rs 100.
Bano said that the Dikshit government is concerned about the likes of them and is ensuring their children get food. “They may have launched the scheme to win our votes but at the end of the day we are reaping the benefits,” she said, making it obvious where at least two votes would go in the forthcoming elections.
A promise, a hope or dream of a fourth term?
The Delhi government has set out an overall eligibility criterion of annual income less than Rs 1 lakh per annum for households under the scheme. It covers people who have APL-stamped cards, APL-unstamped cards and others who are not getting benefits under PDS. While people with APL-unstamped cards do not get ration at all, those with APL-stamped cards get ration at a higher rate at present.
The government has formulated eligibility criteria to select the beneficiaries. These include slum dwellers, people in resettlement colonies and single women – either covered or not under any card – and they will all have to apply fresh to draw benefit of the food security scheme. As per plans, they will be issued new ‘smart’ ration card in the name of eldest woman of the household.
The households would have to update information about family members through application forms available at nearly 250 locations across Delhi – 70 ration offices, 130 gender resource centres of mission convergence, and offices of the DM and SDM. Those found eligible under the scheme would be verified.
While the plan earlier was to focus on the Aadhaar number in the application form, so as to avoid duplication of names, a new equation might be arrived at, as food commissioner SS Yadav said. No affidavit or attestation, or no objection certificate from the landlord, is required. Households that might have a card at present but has even one member owning a light or heavy four-wheeler, property or land in A-E category colonies – or is an income tax payee, a government employee, working in local bodies or has a power connection above 2KW – would not be included as beneficiaries.
“The process of enrolling beneficiaries under the food security scheme would be completely based on Aadhaar numbers of family members,” Yadav had told Governance Now in the middle of September, before the supreme court verdict came in.
Admitting that the attempt to weed out those not deserving the subsidy by crosschecking with the income tax department all information filled in the fresh application form may not be a foolproof verification system, he said the results would be correct to a large extent.
“We estimate the number of beneficiaries on various bases. But when you actually start looking for them, it is found that many families have either migrated or have changed their address, or do not meet the eligibility criteria any more.”
As of now, people with jhuggi and resettlement cards would get the maximum benefit. At present, they get wheat at Rs 7.05 per kg with a limit of 25 kg and rice at Rs 9.25 per kg with a cap of 10 kg.
The scheme would mean no change for Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households, though. They will continue to get 35 kg foodgrain at the rate of Rs 2 for wheat and Rs 3 for rice per kg.
Specifying that the Delhi government till date gave subsidised ration to more than 90 lakh people under five different categories, Yadav said a lot of people from this group would be weeded out once the verification process is completed.
The government is also expecting to weed out many APL-stamped people (approximately 64 lakh) through its verification process. Instead, Yadav said, people who genuinely need the subsidy would be covered.
For now, though, the game appears to have reached a stalemate in the slog overs, and the Delhi government has some brain-racking to do in light of the apex court order if it expects the game-changing scheme to reach the real beneficiaries. Else the weeding-out process could upset a few calculations, besides leading to dissatisfaction.
This story appeared in the october 1-15 issue of the print magazine
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