'Allocate 50 lakh tonnes food grains to the poor'

Apex court directs Centre to cover 150 poorest districts under PDS

A bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma passed the order noting subsidised foods were meant to be provided to the poor under the public distribution system (PDS).

In a hearing held on holiday in the Supreme Court, the Bench said that the quantity of 50 lakh tonnes would be in addition to the similar supply offered by the government.

“In the public distribution system, subsidised food is primarily meant for very poor, weak and vulnerable sections of our society. Admittedly, there are some districts and/or small pockets in our country where majority of people of that district live in utter penury.
“They do not have financial capacity to buy adequate food grains for their survival. A number of cases of malnutrition and starvation are reported from time to time. Subsidised food is really meant for this section of our society,” the court said.

“Our anxiety is that there shall be no starvation deaths in a country like ours. We don’t think there is anything more important than this,” the court added.

Committee report
The Bench said that the court-appointed Justice (retd) D P Wadhwa Committee would be carrying out the identification and distribution of the food grains and submit a report to it before July 22.

It directed all the state governments as well as Union territories to exhaust the existing quantity allocated to them, besides ordering all the chief secretaries to ensure that the food grains allocated were lifted and distributed immediately. “This order is made to ensure that no starvation deaths may take place and people can be saved from malnutrition as far as possible,” the court said.

BPL rice
In its order, the court also questioned the rationale behind distribution of below poverty line (BPL) rice to the beneficiaries on the basis of a 10-year census figure and said figures should be arrived at annual basis.

“We see no rationale in not distributing food grains according to the estimate of Union of India. The food allocation should be based on every year’s population estimate as carried out by the Planning Commission or the Registrar General in the absence of any official census figure.

Individual distribution
The court said that in order to ensure proper food grain distribution, the Centre could consider distributing food on an individual basis rather than on a family basis.

“There seems to be no justification for the present approach which gives the same 35 kg of foodgrain allocation to a family of 10 persons as it does to a single person.

“The single man is likely to sell his excess grain for a profit while the parents in the family of ten are forced to purchase additional grain at non-below poverty line prices in order to feed their children,” the Bench pointed out.

Referring to 50,000 tonnes of food grains that rotted in Punjab and Haryana, it also pointed out that millions of tonnes of food grains are lying in open for years because of inadequate storage capacity.

The Supreme Court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberty (PUCL) alleging large scale irregularities in the public distribution system.

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