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Mamata govt’s ration scheme fails HC test, but Trinamool not worried

The ‘Duare Ration’ scheme was conceived as an extension of the ‘Duare Sarkar’ initiative that had helped TMC win last year’s Assembly polls.

At the time of the scheme's launch, CM Mamata Banerjee assured a grant of Rs 1 lakh each to ration dealers who buy vehicles to deliver food items from door to door. (Express Photo/Representative image)

It was conceived as an extension of the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government’s “Duare Sarkar (government at the doorstep)” programme that proved to be popular and helped the Trinamool Congress (TMC) score a massive win in last year’s Assembly elections. But, giving a boost to the Opposition, the TMC’s Duare Ration scheme that Banerjee rolled out last November has run into a legal hurdle and on Wednesday the Calcutta High Court declared it legally void after holding it to be “ultra vires to the National Food Security Act, 2013”. The ruling party, however, is not unduly worried.

The scheme was part of the TMC’s electoral promises. As part of it, the government sought to provide five kg of ration to families in need for free. At the time of its launch, the CM assured a grant of Rs 1 lakh each to ration dealers who buy vehicles to deliver food items from door to door. She said the vehicles ferrying ration would be stationed at a point in the neighbourhood and the dealers could hire two staff to deliver the ration at every doorstep. She said the delivery person would receive a monthly wage of Rs 10,000, of which the state would pay Rs 5,000 and the ration dealers the rest.

But the scheme received a cold response from ration dealers and soon they moved court to challenge it. After a single-judge Bench of the High Court held that there was no illegality in the scheme, ration dealers appealed and a Division Bench of Justices Chitta Ranjan Dash and Aniruddha Roy held that the ration scheme had “no legal validity”.

The Division Bench observed, “The state government has transgressed the limit of delegation by obliging the fair price shop dealers to distribute ration to the beneficiaries at their doorstep in the absence of any authority to that effect in the enabling act, i.e, the National Food Security Act.”

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The judges held that if Parliament amends the NFS Act for doorstep delivery of foodgrains to beneficiaries or invests such power to the state government to come up with such a scheme such an initiative can be in sync with the law. The state government is now thinking about appealing to the Supreme Court. “We are seeking legal opinion and will take a decision on whether we will move the Supreme Court or not,” said a senior official in the food department.

Ration dealers’ association leader Biswambhar Bose, who was one of the litigants, welcomed the court verdict. “Such a big win before the Puja is the best Puja gift for us,” he said.

The Opposition BJP also tore into what it termed the “TMC’s gimmicks”. BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said, “This was nothing but a gimmick. TMC used this to play a game. It not only disturbed the relationship between people and ration dealers, but the public distribution system was also seriously hampered.”

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The TMC, however, is not concerned about this verdict affecting its electorally, given that it comes months ahead of the panchayat elections that are scheduled for next year. A senior TMC leader said, “Like the Duare Sarkar scheme, Duare Ration also was a hit. So, if this scheme gets closed, people will miss it. That will benefit us.”

First published on: 03-10-2022 at 10:25 IST
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