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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Give 5 million tonnes more grains to poor: Supreme Court

Give 5m tonnes more grains to poor: SC to government
HT Correspondent
New Delhi, May 15, 2011
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First Published: 01:18 IST(15/5/2011)
Last Updated: 02:08 IST(15/5/2011)
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The Supreme Court on Saturday directed the government to immediately allocate an additional 5 million tonnes of foodgrains to 150 poorest districts of the country under the supervision of a committee appointed by the court. “Our anxiety is that there shall be no starvation deaths in a country like o
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urs. We don't think there is anything more important than this,” the court said.

A bench headed by justice Dalveer Bhandari asked the government to distribute the additional foodgrains during the summer to the poor and vulnerable sections of society under the guidance of a commitee headed by justice DP Wadhwa.

The Wadhwa committee, the court said, would identify the “targeted beneficiaries” in consultation with the Centre. The court said the additional 5 million tonnes to be distributed would be in addition to a similar quantity offered earlier by the government for distribution among the poorest of the poor.

The apex court also directed the chief secretaries of all states receiving the additional foodgrains to first exhaust the unutilised stocks allocated to them and then distribute additional stocks.

The bench asked the Wadhwa committee to submit a summary report before July 22 while the government would file an affidavit in six weeks on compliance of the order.

“Why can't you give it (foodgrains being wasted) to the poor on a subsidised rate,” the bench had earlier asked the solicitor general of India after a petitioner — People’s Union for Civil Liberties — complained that huge quantities of foodgrains were recently destroyed in Punjab even as the poor starved in other parts of the 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 live in penury. They do not have the financial capacity to buy adequate foodgrains for their survival. 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," the court said.

The court also questioned the rationale behind the Centre distributing rice meant for people below the poverty line (BPL) to the beneficiaries on the basis of a 10-year census figure and said it should be done on the basis of annual figures.

"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,” it said, adding that the Centre should consider distributing food on an individual basis rather than on a family basis.

“There seems to be no justification for the present approach that gives the same 35 kg of 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 a family of 10 are forced to purchase additional grains at non-BPL prices in order to feed their children,” the bench said.

SC doubles food for poor
May 15, 2011 - S.S. Negi |

Age Corespondent


New Delhi

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Terming the Planning Commission’s yardsticks for determining poverty in the country as “impossible” for the subsistence of any person, the Supreme Court on Saturday directed the Centre to earmark 10 million tonnes of food grains exclusively for the poorest of the poor, including those living in the 150 most poor districts and accounting for the majority of the 3,000 malnutrition deaths every day.

“According to the Planning Commission, `15 per capita per day in rural areas and `20 in urban areas is the yardstick for evaluating who is below the poverty line (BPL). It is impossible for any individual in an urban area to consume 2,100 calories in `20 and 2,400 calories in `15 in rural areas,” a bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma said.
The court pointed out that these figures on calories required for normal persons per day had been fixed by the government agencies themselves. “The Planning Commission may revise norms of per capita amount looking at the price index of May, 2011 or any other subsequent dates,” the court said, rejecting the parameters fixed by it.
While finding the Centre’s proposal to release 5 millions tones of additional food grains to all the states and Union Territories for distribution to BPL families as inadequate, the top court directed the government to double the allocation and make it at least 10 million tonnes for the time being.
The increased five million tonnes would exclusively go to the 150 most poor districts in the country while the other five million tones “must go to the most vulnerable sections” in other parts of the country, ordered the court.
To prevent any pilferage and corruption in distribution, the bench asked the Justice D.P. Wadhwa Committee, assisting the court in monitoring the PDS and collecting data on its functioning in different states, to supervise the distribution of the increased quota, which was ordered to be increased taking into account “conflicting” figures on the BPL population produced by the states and Centre.
Commenting on the conflicting figures, the court said “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 figures”. It disapproved of the practice of sticking to figures of the previous census merely on the premise that the new figures on the poverty line had not been worked out.
Reverting to the Planning Commission’s criteria for determining the poverty line, the court reminded the government and the panel that there was a large section of the poor sitting on the fence with an only marginally higher income of `20 per day in urban areas and `15 in rural areas. “They also deserve food at subsidised rates,” the court said.
It pointed out that the Wadhwa Committee had referred to this group as “marginally above poverty line (MAPL)” but if the parameters of the intake of calories was applied to them, then there would hardly be any difference between the BPL and MAPL populations.
“We have no objection to the government providing universal food security. However, they must first ensure food security for the more vulnerable sections of society,” the bench said while finding fault in uniformly distributing 35 kg of food grains per BPL family without determining the actual number of members in a family. The court also criticised the government for allowing wastage of food grains, saying “about 55,000 tonnes of grain rotted in Punjab and Haryana and a very large chunk was destroyed in a recent fire in Punjab as the stock was lying in the open”.

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