Distribute foodgrains at very low or no cost, Supreme Court tells Centre

CHENNAI, 19/09/2008: Prices and People Colum: Customer line up at a fair price shop in Chinthadripet on Friday. Photo:R_Ragu   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

To deal with the problem of foodgrains rotting in godowns, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to consider distributing them at “very low cost” or “no cost” as a short term measure.

A Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma passed this order, taking on record the affidavit filed by the Centre in response to the suggestions made by the court on July 27.

The Bench, after hearing Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran, for the government, and senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, for petitioner People's Union for Civil Liberties, in its order said to deal with the problem of foodgrains, “which is rotting,” the government could consider increasing the quantum of food supply to the population Below Poverty Line (BPL), opening the fair price shops for all the 30 days in a month and distribute foodgrains to the deserving population at a very low cost or no cost.

The Bench referred to the affidavit filed by Union Food Secretary Alka Sirohi and said “a serious endeavour has been made to give a clear answer to all the queries raised by us in our last order. On why the facilities of the Public Distribution System [PDS] be not discontinued for people who are Above Poverty Line [APL], the Centre said that after meeting the total allocation of the population in the Antyodaya Anna Yojana and the BPL categories, the remaining foodgrains are allocated to the States and Union Territories for distribution to APL population.”

The Bench said: “That is precisely what the Court had in mind when the previous order was passed.”

On computerisation of PDS across the country, the Bench said: “The Union of India, in principle, has agreed to the complete computerisation of the entire PDS, which means computerisation from the godown of the Food Corporation of India to the ultimate beneficiary to ensure greater transparency of the entire PDS. Looking to the urgency of this matter, we request the Union of India to expedite the whole process and submit a comprehensive report to this Court as early as possible and in any event within six weeks from today [Thursday].”

In its order, the Bench pointed out that the Centre had stated that there had been record procurement of wheat and rice in the last three years as a result of which the central pool stocks reached the level of 604.28 lakh tonnes on June 1, 2010. “Due to high procurement of wheat and rice during the last three years and insufficient covered storage space available in the country to store the procured stock, 178 lakh tonnes of wheat was stored in Covered and Plinth [CAP] storage, as on June 1, 2010. CAP storage involves storage on elevated plinths with polythene covers specially made for this purpose.”

The court made it clear that the Centre must ensure food security of the country. In view of record procurement which the Centre was not able to properly store and preserve, it would be appropriate that the Centre might take some long term and short term measures to solve the problem. It said: “Permanent solution lies in constructing adequate storage facilities. The Union of India may consider constructing at least one large Food Corporation of India godown in every State and consider the possibility of construction of one godown in every division if not in every district of the State.”

It wanted the PDS to be strengthened particularly, in tribal and drought-prone areas of the country. On the petitioner's submission that though the Centre was allocating 35-kg of wheat/rice per family, the State governments were not distributing it in the same proportion, the Bench asked the States to file affidavits in that respect within one week. The Bench directed the matter to be listed for further hearing on August 31 after filing of replies and rejoinders.

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