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 ours. 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.