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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rotting an extremely serious matter - Supreme Court

Content from OUTLOOK India magazine
October 18, 2010

Ticking off the Centre for the rotting of huge quantities of foodgrains when people are dying of hunger, the Supreme Court today asked what action has been taken against officials responsible for it.

Terming the matter as "extremely serious", the apex asked the Centre to ensure no further wastage and gear up to meet the storage required for the ensuing kharif crops.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Mohan Parasaran drew flak for his argument that only 7000 tonnes of grains had got rotten in Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns and that 67,539 tonnes were wasted in the godowns owned by States of Haryana and Punjab.

"Even if it is 7,000 tonnes how can it happen? Then there is the wastage in two States. It is an extremely serious matter. You compare the wastage world over. The damage done in two States is very high. What action you have taken against the officials?

You are admitting 7000 tonnes have been damaged. People are dying of hunger. You are not providing them grain. This litigation has been going on for the past 10 years. Some evaluation should have been done by you by this time to prevent wastage and ensure proper distribution," a Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma told the ASG.

The apex court made the observation while dealing with the public interest litigation moved by Peoples Union for Civil Liberties's (PUCL) complaining about large scale corruption in the country's public distribution system (PDS) and rotting of food grains in government godowns.

The Bench had earlier ordered the Government to distribute food grains free of cost to the hungry poor, but the Centre had not given any commitment on the issue though Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Paward had orally assured that Government would implement the direction.

However, subsequently the Prime Minister joined the issue saying courts should not interfere in policy matters.

During today's arguments, the apex court asked the Government counsel as to what action was taken against the officials responsible for the rotten grains.

"From the first of October you will be getting more foodgrains from the kharif corps. Ensure it is properly distributed. Let it not go waste, "the Bench said.

Referring to the rotten foodgrains it said, "if it is not fit for human consumption we do not suggest that it should be given to them. It should not be given even to animals. Because you spend more on breeding them (animals)."

The apex court also wondered what was the difficulty for the Centre to allocate sufficient grains for the BPL/AAY families in States if they are seeking higher allocation.

"What is the difficulty? When they find it(allocation of foodgrains) is very short, what can they(States) do?" the Bench asked the counsel.

The PUCL had alleged that many States were not getting adequate stocks for distribution through PDS as the Centre was allocating only a limited stock for the distribution.

According to the organisation, presently apart from 22 million tonnes of buffer stock, the Centre has an additional 33 million tonnes of foodgrains in its godowns, but was allocating only a meagre 2.5 million tonnes for the PDS.

The ASG, however, said the distribution was being made on the basis of the BPL/AAY statistics relied upon by the Centre, though the States might have their own parameters in determining the number of such beneficiaries. The arguments will continue tomorrow.

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