Will the mention of ‘Mukhya Mantri’ scuttle doorstep delivery of rations in Delhi?

Doorstep delivery of rations in Delhi was a key part of AAP’s 2020 election manifesto, expected to halt theft of rations and ensure timely delivery.

Ever since its launch in 2018, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been trying to include his “revolutionary step” of doorstep delivery of rations in Delhi to the list of 100 services presently available under this scheme. Presently, people pick up their rations from Fair Price Shops (FPS) under the Public Distribution Scheme (PDS). 

The state government was all set to roll out the scheme initially on March 25th, and again in mid-June. Both times, Lt Governor Anil Baijal ensured it did not happen. Baijal represents the BJP-led Central government that has constantly been at loggerheads with the AAP government.

The argument was all about the name of the scheme. The Delhi government had called it the “Mukhya Mantri Ghar Ghar Ration Yojana”. Days before its first scheduled launch, the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs objected to the “Mukhya Mantri” part of the name.

The ministry’s argument was that as delivery of rations fell under the National Food Security Act, any change in the delivery mechanism had to be done through an amendment of the Act in Parliament. The Centre maintains that doorstep delivery of rations goes against the grain of the National Food Security Act, though it has not been able to convince the courts on this point.

Read more: Delhi Report Card 4: Will AAP’s doorstep delivery of services prove to be the clincher in 2020 polls?

As part of the spadework to include ration delivery, the Delhi government asked citizens to send an SMS if they wanted to opt out of the proposed scheme. Only three lakh out of the 72 lakh families that visit ration shops opted out. “That 69 lakh families wanted doorstep delivery of rations is a telling indicator of the popularity of our doorstep delivery scheme overall,” said a senior AAP leader on condition of anonymity.

The reason the AAP leader requested anonymity is that this issue is before the Delhi High Court where the Delhi Sarkari Ration Dealers Sangh has filed a petition against the scheme. The Delhi government has produced this SMS data before the bench to bolster its case.

Doorstep delivery of rations was a prominent part of AAP’s 2020 election manifesto. The party firmly believes such a scheme would halt the theft of rations besides ensuring timely delivery.

Tackling “retail corruption”

It was four years ago that the government of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, itself conceived and formed in the course of an anti-corruption movement, decided to attack what it called “retail corruption” .

The party believes that retail corruption is synonymous with any transaction with the government. So instead of the citizen, who needs a government, service having to go to a corrupt sarkari official who wants his palms greased, the AAP government decided to use technology and deliver services at the citizen’s door.

The Delhi government believes this move set “a new standard of governance in India”. And the scheme has been running for about three years now with a fair amount of satisfaction among citizens.

Almost from the turn of the new millennium, some state governments in north India have attempted to address people’s needs by what they called “sarkar aap ke dwar”, or “government at your door”. If one chief minister went from village to village organising melas in the course of which he received and passed on representations by the people to officials of his entourage, another gave away development funds to the panchayats to be spent by the gram vikas samitis.

Read more: 7600 families, one PDS centre: How resettled slum dwellers buy rations in Chennai’s Perumbakkam

But these gestures were not about delivering regular needs — a birth certificate or learner’s licence or marriage certificate or electricity connection — to a resident at his home, which is what the current Delhi scheme does.

Positive reviews

“I did not believe it when they said they would deliver so many things at our doorstep, and treated it just like another poll promise,” said Om Prakash, a 68-year-old resident of Lakshmi Nagar. “But my friend’s son who lives down the road told me that it works, and gave me the telephone number to dial for whatever service I wanted”.

Om Prakash dialled 1076 in Oct 2019, followed the instructions, gave the details of what he wanted done: deletion of the names of his son and daughter in law from the family ration card, as they had moved to Nagpur and wanted to get their ration card there. “A young man came home two days later, helped me with the paper work, took the documents they wanted. All I had to pay him was Rs 50. Within a week, I received my ration card with the names deleted”.

The 100 services presently covered under the scheme are ones for which earlier people would have had to visit government offices, stand in frustrating queues and deal with insensitive officials multiple times. Not any more. 

It is a programme Chief Minister Kejriwal is proud of and refers to in response to practically any question on the performance of his government.

No doubt, the scheme’s implementation will always be ‘work in progress’ as the Delhi government keeps adding to the list of services. In August 2021, it was expanded to include all transport department related services. Short of giving a driving test or having their vehicle’s fitness tested at home, Delhi residents can now get a lot of documents at their doorstep.

The helpline number is toll free, and the government decided to hire two vendors given the massive demand for services. Government sources have said that till June 2021, 55 lakh people have dialled 1076, and that this figure does not include the calls received between January to May this year and when services were disrupted due to the national lockdown during March to August last year.

A fair price shop for ration distribution
Delhi ration shop owners have petitioned the Delhi High Court against the Delhi govt’s scheme of doorstep delivery of rations, which the AAP govt had emphasised in its 2020 election manifesto.

Keeping it simple

It is worth noting that between Sept 2018 when the scheme was launched and December 2019, just before COVID-19 hit the world, the number of service requests stood at just 2.89 lakhs, according to a Delhi government statement. But took a big leap in the aftermath of the pandemic.

At the heart of the success of the scheme is the easy accessibility and simplicity of the technology-driven implementation. 

To Avail of Doorstep Delivery Service

  • Dial the helpline toll free number 1076, choose the department from which service is required
  • Call centre executive notes down basic details like your name, address, service required and informs you about the documents required and the payment to be made for the service.
  • Call centre executive books an appointment according to your convenience.
  • Mobile sahayak reaches your doorstep, confirms service request and enters your details in the portal. He also uploads required documents
  • You make the payment for the service to the mobile sahayak. Confirmation
    SMS with details of the service is sent promptly.
  • The submitted application is forwarded to the department concerned and action is taken.
  • On service completion, certificate or the physical document is delivered to you at your doorstep by the mobile sahayak.

This delivery model is the brainchild of Gopal Mohan, an IIT alumnus whose association with Kejriwal goes back to 2009, much before AAP was formed. Gopal Mohan, now adviser to the chief minister, stepped in with this scheme when in the initial months no more than 10% of people were using the online services introduced by the Kejriwal government in its second term.

“Despite 35 of the 40 services being online, up to 25 lakh people used to visit government offices annually for the same,” said Gopal. “Each transaction took around four visits. Cyber cafes were minting money as people flocked to them for filling forms and uploading documents. And touts flourished”. 

The reasons, Gopal Mohan noted, were that people were not tech savvy enough to use online services and many were not willing to use debit and credit cards for online transactions. Most importantly, because they had to visit government offices in any case to complete some additional processes even after submitting applications online.

Gopal’s solution was that someone collects the necessary documents and the application fee at their homes, and submits them on behalf of the consumer. The 1076 helpline was then connected to the “mobile sahayaks”, and the doorstep delivery of services unfolded to rave reviews.

The next level

Doorstep delivery of rations will probably be welcomed by those who have to make endless visits to the fair price shops. But in the interim, there are other services that could scale up this popular scheme.

I decided to test dial 1076, where the response was prompt, patient to my repeated queries. I sought a service from the recently all-encompassed transport department, and wanted to change my driving licence from Chandigarh to Delhi. “We deal with services in Delhi only” was the response.

Thousands of people from all over the country make the capital city their home, year after year, and may want portability of important documents. An all India ration card, for instance, is still nowhere in sight.

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