The Delhi government failed to procure subsidised foodgrains under a Central scheme for occupants of welfare homes and hostels due to a delay in submitting proposals, inviting rebuke from the Union Food Ministry, official records show.
Under the Centre’s Welfare Institutions and Hostel Scheme, foodgrains are allocated to states and union territories at BPL rates for use at shelter homes for the infirm, women, children and other vulnerable groups as well as hostels meant for SC/ST/OBC students.
According to Union government and Delhi government records, the allocation for the period October 2019-March 2020 and April 2020-September 2020 will not be made due to the delay.
The Union Food Ministry wrote to the Delhi Food Commissioner on September 3, 2020, flagging the delay, after the state asked it to consider allocation of foodgrains for the second half of 2019 and first half of 2020. Delhi had submitted its proposal on September 1. “It is not understood how the government of NCT Delhi intends to utilise the foodgrains now and how it will benefit beneficiaries who have already been deprived of the foodgrains. Therefore, it is not feasible to consider the request for allocation of foodgrains for the first half of 2020-21 at this stage,” it said.
The request for allocation for the second half of 2019-20 has also been rejected, saying the Centre does not make “retrospective allocation of foodgrains”.
For the period October 2020 and March 2021, 1.976 metric tonnes of wheat and 0.503 metric tonnes of rice have been allocated, the department said. For the first half of 2018-19, 42.53 MT wheat and 10.59 MT rice was allocated for Delhi.
The Centre had in February and September 2020 also informed Delhi that the scheme will once again cover government-aided institutions and hostels as well, which was discontinued in March 2019, and sought details on the unspent balance of foodgrains.
Asked for a comment, the Delhi Food Department, in a written statement, attributed the delay to administrative reasons, saying the proposal could not be finalised on time as the utilisation certificates from circle food safety officers “were not cleared by the accounts branch”.
Behind Centre’s push to carry out audits of scheme
The Centre had urged states and UTs in the past to carry out regular audits of its Welfare Institutions and Hostel Scheme, citing the absence of detailed norms and criteria for allocation of foodgrains. It had pointed out that utilisation of the allocations made are often unmonitored. Even in this case, the delay in submitting proposals happened due to variations in utilisation certificates made by two different wings of the Delhi government. Delhi has several such homes, where the foodgrains are disbursed, such as After Care Home for Women, Bal Niketan, Widow Home at Nirmal Chaya Complex, Nari Niketan.
As per guidelines, the Centre makes the allocation on a half-yearly basis, based on proposals from states and UTs, which are to be backed with utilisation certificates relating to the previous batch of allocation.
“There was considerable delay in providing utilisation certificates (UC) by the welfare institutions concerned as routine functioning in most of the departments/institutions was adversely affected due to Covid-19. There were also variations in UCs submitted by the department’s officers. Moreover, the department was occupied with various food relief measures during the lockdown. Various new schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, Atma Nirbhar Bharat scheme, Mukhya Mantri Corona Shayata Yojana were announced to tackle the food security situation. Due to this, disposal of other routine matters could not be fast tracked or prioritised,” the department told The Indian Express.
“No communication/instruction was received from the Government of India regarding functioning of the scheme during the Covid-19 outbreak or that any retrospective proposals will not be henceforth entertained by the ministry,” it added.
It said the Delhi government has written to the Centre again to reconsider its stand in view of the “unprecedented circumstances and needs of the beneficiaries”.