The issue of rotting foodgrains and the Supreme Court order directing the government to distribute them among the hungry today led to uproar in the Lok Sabha prompting two adjournments.
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj raised the issue hours after the Supreme Court took exception to Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s statement that its directive on free distribution of foodgrains to the poor instead of allowing them to rot in godowns was a suggestion which could not be implemented.
Ms. Swaraj made the statement in the midst of a discussion on the Indian Medicine Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2010, prompting an impromptu debate on the matter and demands for presence of Mr. Pawar in the House.
Mr. Pawar, who later came to the House, said government would honour the decision of the Supreme Court, a copy of which has not reached him.
Amid opposition uproar over rotting foodgrains, she raised the issue after a calling attention motion moved by Harsimrat Kaur (Akali Dal) over rejection of 40 lakh tonnes of rice variety PAU-201 by the Food Safety Standards Authority.
Ms. Kaur’s calling attention earlier had generated heat in the House with Akali Dal members twice trooping into the Well dissatisfied over Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s reply that a report of the expert committee, including those from the National Institute of Nutrition, on PAU-201 rice variety is likely to be submitted by the second week of September.
The Food Safety Standards Authority of India has rejected it citing provisions of the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) and the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
Ms. Kaur made a strong plea to allow the 40 lakh tonnes rice to be distributed for human consumption contending that the analysis reports of 75 samples reveal that only nine of them were not found to be conforming to the standards of rice as prescribed under the PFA rules, a stand accepted by Azad.
She said food grains are rotting while people are going hungry as she took out a packet of rice to drive home her point.
Ms. Kaur said an early decision in this was necessary as a new crop was coming and there was no place to keep it with the godowns being full of PAU-201 rice.
Sharing members’ concern, Mr. Azad said it was mainly a matter between the Punjab Government and the FCI and “since the matter was referred to us, we have been faithfully” carrying out the job.
Mr. Azad gave a list of efforts taken to resolve the issue noting that Mr. Pawar even convened a meeting of all concerned, including the Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab and Ms. Kaur on August 15.
Ms. Swaraj asked the government as to why it had considered the earlier direction of the Supreme Court in the issue as a suggestion and not an order.
“We want the Agriculture Minister to give us an assurance that the foodgrains would be distributed among the poor. The government should give us a plan to do it within a week,” she said.
Amid slogans from the opposition benches asking the government to give an answer, Sharad Yadav (JD—U) said, “the highest court of the country has said that the earlier direction was an order not a suggestion. The government should distribute the foodgrains to areas which are drought prone.”
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said foodgrains are rotting and farmers are in a terrible condition. “The situation is grim,” he said.
Dara Singh Chauhan (BSP) said, “the Supreme Court has given notice twice and the government has not taken note“.
As the opposition members shouted slogans of “Call Pawar”, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said, “they raise the matter and expect the minister to be here in a minute.”
“They are making a mockery of Parliament,” he said, adding “BJP wants to create an uproar and nothing else.”
RJD leader Lalu Prasad asked the government to send the rotting foodgrains to drought affected Bihar, to which Bansal said, “we will give it to you to distribute“.
When the debate took a noisy turn with charges and counter charges from both sides, Deputy Speaker Karia Munda adjourned the House for 15 minutes.