Supreme Court questions the norms and method adopted by Centre to identify such families

The Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned the norms and method adopted by the Centre in identifying below the poverty line (BPL) families, as the figures furnished by it and the States were at variance and the State governments had complained of inadequate supply of foodgrains.

Earlier, senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the People's Union for Civil Liberties, which seeks streamlining of the Public Distribution System, said that as per the Centre's figure, there were only 652 lakh BPL families, including Antyodaya Anna Yojana families, and that this number was based on the 2000 population estimates.

Based on the June 2010 data, there were 859 lakh BPL families. The difference was due to the Centre's estimate that BPL families formed only 27 per cent of the population, whereas as per the Justice Wadhwa Committee, they accounted for 36 per cent. According to the Arjun Sengupta Commission, the BPL population was about 77 per cent, counsel said.

Additional Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran clarified that according to the Planning Commission, the BPL families constituted only 27 per cent of the population. There were some differences in the norms and guidelines adopted by the States in identifying BPL families.

When Mr. Gonsalves said release of 2.5 million tonnes of foodgrains by the Centre to the States was inadequate considering the huge stocks available, Justice Dalveer Bhandari told Mr. Parasaran: “Would you consider raising the allotment to the States to a reasonable level so that your problem of storage will also be solved to some extent, and the 150 districts identified as the most-poverty stricken districts will also be benefited?”

Justice Bhandari said: “This will go a long way in reducing poverty and in the meantime you [the Centre] can improve storage facilities.” On the huge difference in figures for BPL families, he told the Additional Solicitor-General: “It is startling, and the facts disturb all of us.”

When Mr. Parasaran said there were several bogus ration cards issued in the States, Justice Bhandari said some mechanism should be evolved to weed them out. Two weeks' time should be granted for surrender of the bogus cards, otherwise people who were in possession of them would have to face prosecution.

When the Bench, which included Justice Deepak Verma, started hearing the States, on behalf of Kerala its counsel G. Prakash said the quantity of foodgrains supplied by the Centre was insufficient. Under the Targeted PDS, the number of BPL families in the State was 20.61 lakh, whereas the Centre had estimated it as 15.54 lakh families. As the Centre allotted foodgrains on its own estimate, Kerala was unable to supply 35 kg foodgrains a month to each BPL family.

Pat for Kerala

When Mr. Gonsalves pointed out that Kerala had identified the BPL families most scientifically and adopted the best method, Justice Bhandari lauded it for its efforts and said this must be the approach of other States too.

Kerala, in its affidavit, said even though it had time and again requested restoration of the APL (above the poverty line) allocation, and MPs and Ministers from the State had staged a dharna near Parliament, the Centre did not grant the plea. The State sought a direction to the Centre to supply adequate foodgrains to meet its requirements.

Arguments will continue on Thursday.

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