Court wants Centre to “distribute foodgrains on an individual basis”

The Supreme Court on Saturday asked the Planning Commission to revise the per capita norms to determine below poverty line looking to the price index of May 2011 or any other subsequent dates.

A Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma, at a special sitting to hear the case relating to streamlining of the public distribution system, pointed out that according to the parameters of the Planning Commission, Rs.15 per capita per day in rural areas and Rs. 20 in urban areas was the yardstick for evaluating “who is Below Poverty Line.”

It noted that the BPL population “is anchored on a norm of 2400 calories per capita per day for rural areas and 2100 calories per capita per day for urban areas. According to the Tendulkar Committee, with the price level of 2011, it is impossible for an individual in an urban area to consume 2100 calories on Rs.20 and an individual in a rural area to consume 2400 calories on Rs.15.”

“A large section of the population which has marginally higher income than Rs. 20 in urban areas and Rs. 15 in rural areas also deserves food at subsidised rates. The Wadhwa Committee has referred to this group as “Marginally Above Poverty Line.” We have no objection to the Government of India providing universal food security. However, they must first ensure food security for more vulnerable sections of society.”

The judges wanted the Centre to distribute foodgrains on an individual basis rather than on a family basis.

The Bench said: “There seems to be no justification for the present approach which gives the same 35 kg 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 10 are forced to purchase additional grain at non-BPL prices in order to feed their children. The Wadhwa Committee observed this situation as ‘rather incongruous.' ”

“Tamil Nadu is successfully distributing foodgrains on individual basis. Perhaps the Union of India may consider the Tamil Nadu pattern for the entire country. In the public distribution system, subsidised food is primarily meant for the very poor, weak and vulnerable sections of our society. Admittedly, there are some districts and/or small pockets in our country where the majority of people of that district live in penury. They do not have financial capacity to buy adequate foodgrains for their survival. Subsidised food is really meant for this section of our society.

The Bench requested the Wadhwa Committee “to identify the poorest districts or poorest segments of our society and ensure that additionally allocated foodgrains reach this segment from time to time. The additional 5 million tonnes which has been reserved by the Union of India may be allocated to the 150 poorest districts or other poorer segments of society on the recommendation of the committee from time to time. The exercise may be done by the committee in consultation with the representative(s) of the Government of India and the petitioners.”

It directed the Chief Secretaries of all the States/Union Territories to ensure that the foodgrains allocated to those States were lifted and distributed immediately and a copy of this order be sent to all the State Governments/Union Territories. The Bench asked the Wadhwa Committee to submit a small summary report on or before July 22, when the matter would be listed for further hearing.

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