The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the central government, which admitted to shortcomings in the public distribution system, why it could not give the surplus food grain that it couldn’t store to hungry people at subsidised rates.
‘Why can’t you give it at subsidised rates to the hungry populace. You have it. You can’t store it. You can’t destroy it. Give it to the people who need it,’ said the apex court bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice Deepak Verma.
‘What you (the central government) have done is not adequate. At least the grains you can’t store, you give them (to the hungry),’ said the court, when its attention was drawn to a report by a news channel that had shown the stored food grains being burnt in Punjab after becoming unfit for consumption.
As the court vented its ire over the inadequacy of action on the central government’s part, the government said it has decided to make further additional allocation of 50 lakh tones of rice and wheat to all the states and union territories. The allocation would start in two weeks’ time.
Appearing for the petitioner, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), senior counsel Colin Gonsalves said: ‘The food that can’t be stored, let it be stored in the stomach of hungry.’ He told the court that nutritional level in India was less than that of Bangladesh.
As the court exhorted the central government to be alive to the needs of the poorest of the poor, the Planning Commission told the court that it was aware that many states complain that people who are indisputably poor are left out of BPL list because of the cap (limit) imposed by the central government but this was not wholly true.
Appearing for the Planning Commission, Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium told the court that the blame for the poor being left out of the BPL list could not be attributed to the cap (limit of BPL families) but ‘the fact that certain non-entitled persons are given BPL cards leaving those entitled to BPL cards uncovered’.
This was stated by Planning Commission Advisor B.D. Virdi, in an affidavit filed in response to an April 20 direction of the apex court seeking to know if the 37.2 percent cap was the uniform poverty ratio for assistance under the BPL schemes and how data of 1990 was relevant in 2011 in calculating BPL families.
The Planning Commission told the court that it had not fixed a uniform cap of 37.2 percent for every state. However, it said that ‘in any system of entitlement which is not universal, there will be a cap’.
Giving the background for evolving of the methodology for calculating the estimates of poverty, the commission told the court that it should not be interfered with as it was ‘carefully developed by experts over the year to estimate the incidence of poverty in different parts of the country’.
The Planning Commission also defended the poverty line fixed at a daily consumption expenses per head of Rs.20 per day in urban areas and Rs.15 in rural areas at 2004-2005 prices.
However, the court was told that this could be revised upward if updated to the current price index. ‘These amounts could be significantly higher if updated to reflect price rise since 2004-2005,’ the commission said.