50 lakh tonnes for all States/Union Territories at BPL prices

Responding to the concern expressed by the Supreme Court over malnutrition and starvation deaths, the Centre has informed it of the decision to make an additional allocation of 50 lakh tonnes of rice and wheat to all States/Union Territories for distribution to Below the Poverty Line families at BPL prices in two weeks.

Additional Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran made this submission before a Bench comprising Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma, hearing a petition filed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties on the streamlining of the public distribution system (PDS).

The Bench recorded the undertaking and asked the government to take immediate steps to prevent malnutrition deaths.

Earlier, senior counsel Colin Gonzalves submitted that according to the National Family Health Survey 3 (2006) of the Government of India, the under-five mortality rate in the country “is 74 for every 1,000 livebirths. There are 2.4 crore livebirths in India each year.”

Mr. Gonzalves said: “The total number of deaths of children under the age of five [with a mortality rate of 74 per 1,000] is 17.8 lakh. Since the child malnutrition rate, according to the NFHS 3, is 46 per cent, we can directly attribute this to malnutrition. Thus, 8.8 lakh children die every year in India due to malnutrition. This roughly translates to 75,000 children dying every month due to malnutrition and an astounding 2,500 child deaths every day. More than a hundred children are dying every hour across the country due to malnutrition.”

Counsel also brought to the court's notice a report that foodgrains stored along the highways near Chandigarh were reduced to ashes after the rotten product caught fire. The Bench sought a report on this episode.

Justice Bhandari once again told Mr. Parasaran about the need for striking a balance between excess procurement and the storage problem, as the cost of procurement had also gone up. Even if a small portion of the foodgrains that was going to waste in storage was distributed to the hungry poor, poverty and malnutrition could be reduced to a great extent.

When Mr. Gonzalves said about 2,500-3,000 child deaths were taking place due to malnutrition, Justice Bhandari said: “Even three deaths a day are bad for this nation. You [the government] should take immediate steps to prevent malnutrition. You have an exceptionally good crop. You procure to the extent you can store. We are not against procurement. Whatever you procure, store it properly. The rest you can distribute to the starving people, instead of allowing it to go waste.”

Planning Commission affidavit

In response to the court notice, the Planning Commission filed an affidavit on BPL estimates, and Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam briefly explained the methodology adopted by various experts.

The affidavit said the Tendulkar Committee recommendations, applied to the 2004-2005 National Sample Survey (NSS) data, yielded a higher estimate of poverty ratio of 37.2 per cent for the country as a whole, comprising 25.7 per cent in urban areas and 41.8 per cent in rural areas.

“The Planning Commission will apply this methodology to the large sample NSS Consumption Expenditure Survey of 2009-2010, which is shortly going to become available,” it said.

It said: “The poverty line emerging from the Tendulkar methodology is a consumption of Rs.579 per capital per month for urban areas and Rs.447 per capital per month for rural areas at the 2004-2005 prices. The poverty line would be significantly higher if updated to reflect the current prices.”

Aware of complaints

It said: “The Planning Commission is aware that many States' complaint is that people who are indisputably poor are left out of the BPL list because of the cap imposed by the Central government. It is not denied that this is indeed the case in many States. However, the cap is not the reason for this as non-entitled persons are given BPL cards, leaving those entitled to BPL cards uncovered.”

Further hearing is posted to May 13.

  • Need to strike a balance between excess procurement and storage: Justice Bhandari
  • ‘Whatever you procure, store it properly. The rest you can distribute to starving people'