Expressing serious concern over reports that a huge stock of foodgrains is being wasted in the absence of adequate storage, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to consider releasing the grain to the deserving people rather than allowing it to rot.
A Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma asked the Centre to respond to this suggestion on or before August 10 so that the court could pass appropriate orders.
“If food is rotting, don't waste it. In a country where admittedly people are starving, it is a crime to waste even a single grain. The official statement made by the government indicates that there is wastage of foodgrains at many places. The government may consider constructing adequate warehouses or food storage facilities on a long-term basis. On a short-term basis, they can also consider hiring warehouses or putting up water-proof tents to save the grain. But all-out efforts must be made to ensure that not a single grain is wasted.”
The Bench said the general complaint of the Justice Wadhwa Committee was that people Below the Poverty Line were not able to get the full benefit of the Public Distribution System. The main cause was that even people Above the Poverty Line were entitled to the benefit of the PDS in most of the places. It was desirable, according to the committee, that the PDS benefit should go entirely to the BPL. The Bench said: “The government can fix the income and other norms immediately so that the benefit is extended to all those who genuinely deserve it more than the other category [APL].”
The Bench noted that according to the Wadhwa Committee, there was huge corruption and pilferage in the PDS all over the country, and so total computerisation of the system would be an important step in arresting the problem.
The Bench sought the response of the Food and Public Distribution Secretary as to “Why the facilities of PDS be not discontinued for people who are Above the Poverty Line? To avoid pilferage and corruption, there must be total computerisation of the PDS on top priority. The Union of India must prepare a software and the same software should be used by all States; The Union of India may consider computerisation in consultation with specialised agencies like the Unique Identification Authority of India or any other agency.”
The Bench said the “government may also consider that instead of giving fair price shops to private individuals, let all fair price shops be operated by the State Public Warehousing Corporations/State Government Corporations. The government may also consider providing ration and other items according to the [number of ] members of the family, instead of on a card basis. If there is one member in the family, he must be given ration accordingly and if there are five members, then they must get five times more. The State government can fix the maximum limit.”
To avoid too many stages, the Union of India might consider sending rations directly from Food Corporation of India godowns to the fair price shops.
Further hearing is posted to August 12.
Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves appeared for the petitioner and Additional Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran, for the Centre,