To ensure that no starvation death takes place and people are saved from malnutrition as far as possible, the Supreme Court on Saturday directed the Centre to release five million tonnes of foodgrains immediately for distribution in 150 most poverty-stricken districts or other poorer segments in the country.
Though it was a holiday for the court, a Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma held a special sitting and passed the order, considering the urgency and gravity of the matter.
The Bench heard Gopal Subramaniam, Solicitor-General; Mohan Parasaran, Additional Solicitor-General; Colin Gonsalves, senior counsel for the petitioner (People's Union for Civil Liberties), and other counsel for the respective parties and passed the order.
The Bench said: “Admittedly, in the 150 poorest districts of India, the problem of malnutrition is very intense and is related to the inadequacy or lack of food in those areas.
The Union of India must provide adequate foodgrains for these 150 poorest districts, on a priority basis.
“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. Fortunately, the position of foodgrains stocks in our country is extremely good. Mr. Parasaran, ASG, submits that as on April 1, 2011 there are 44 million tonnes of stocks. Perhaps, never before have foodgrains stocks been so high. The bumper crop of this season will further improve the situation of existing stocks. Even after keeping adequate foodgrains for emergency or unforeseen circumstances, we would still have huge stocks in our godowns.”
Further, it said: “Millions of tonnes of foodgrains are lying in the open for years because of inadequate storage capacity. Admittedly, about 55,000 tonnes of foodgrains rotted in Punjab and Haryana. A very large chunk of foodgrains were destroyed in the recent Punjab fire because the foodgrains were lying in open. In this background, the 5 million tonnes of foodgrains which the Union of India has already undertaken to additionally allocate, must go to the most vulnerable sections of our society and the parties are in total agreement about this proposition.
“Looking to the enormity and gravity of the problem, as a one-time measure, it is absolutely imperative in the larger public interest to direct the Union of India to reserve another 5 million tonnes of foodgrains for distribution to the 150 poorest districts or the extremely poor and vulnerable sections of our society. This additional 5 million tonnes of foodgrains would be over and above 5 million tonnes which the Union of India has already undertaken to allocate.
“The estimated population of the country as of March, 2010 is 117.67 crores and according to the office of the Registrar-General, Census, the projected population of India as in 2011 is 119.3 crores (Planning Commission working Group on Population Stabilisation for the 11th Five Year Plan). We see no rationale in not distributing foodgrains according to the estimate of the 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,” the Bench said.