In a fresh Aam Aadmi Party-bureaucracy tussle, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Wednesday ordered the suspension of Food Commissioner Mohanjeet Singh, after it emerged during a raid that a ration shop owner in west Delhi’s Nangloi allegedly diverted 190 quintals of foodgrain allocated to him.
Singh hit back saying he has thrice, including in October, recommended the restoration of e-POS (electronic point of sale), under which a ration beneficiary gets his share after Aadhaar-linked biometric authentication. He said around 99 per cent beneficiaries had already got the Aadhaar linking done.
Officials in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) said Kejriwal has written to Chief Secretary Vijay Dev, ordering the suspension. Under the scheme of things, only Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal can suspend any bureaucrat of the food commissioner’s rank.
At heart of debate, e-POS system at fair price shops
At the heart of the dispute lies the AAP government’s decision to discontinue the e-POS (electronic point of sales) system in Delhi’s fair price shops. When e-POS was in place, PDS beneficiaries could withdraw their share of foodgrain only after biometric authentication. But the system was suspended by the government, citing instances of foodgrain being siphoned through misuse of the OTP (one-time password) verification method. The L-G had ordered the anti-corruption branch to probe the issue. Food rights activists had also welcomed the move, saying the Aadhaar-enabled e-POS system was depriving many, especially the elderly, from their quota of ration due to glitches in the authentication process. However, the food commissioner has been urging the government to restore the system, which he claims helped check pilferage of up to 30 per cent. The latest case of alleged pilferage has renewed the debate.
During the raid, undertaken by a team led by Food Minister Imran Hussain on November 27, the shop was found locked. After it was opened, it was found devoid of any stock, despite the fact that the department had allocated 152 quintals of wheat and 38 quintals of rice to it for distribution in December.
“It clearly indicates that the specified food articles have been unauthorisedly and illegally diverted. Prima facie, there is a diversion of SFAs (specified food articles) on part of the FPS owner, which violates the control orders and guidelines of the department,” Hussain wrote to the Chief Minister.
Singh, who has faced the government’s ire in the past over the decision to strike off names of over 2 lakh alleged illegal PDS beneficiaries, said had the e-POS been in place, the department would have been aware of details such as the duty hours of the shop and number of people that have taken ration at a particular time.
“The department repeatedly sought complaints of people who were being allegedly denied ration due to e-POS authentication failure. But nothing came to us. When e-POS was in place, over 30 per cent diversion could be prevented. It stopped pilferage worth crores. Why was it suspended?” Singh asked.
The government had suspended the e-POS system in April. It has also clashed with Singh over his refusal to implement the doorstep delivery of ration scheme. The commissioner had written to the government to get the scheme vetted by the Centre, as it came under the National Food Security Act. “Since then, the file is pending with minister Hussain,” Singh said.
But in his note to the CM, Hussain wrote that despite repeated directions, Singh had not implemented the doorstep scheme. “Commissioner does not go on any field inspections, does not take any strict action on the complaints, does not take any steps to check corruption in the department… It is quite apparent that the CFS has vested interests and is deeply involved in corruption,” the Food Minister wrote.