A-G gets SOS, asked to defend food policy | delhi | Hindustan Times
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A-G gets SOS, asked to defend food policy

The UPA government — under repeated attacks from the Supreme Court in an ongoing right-to-food case — has asked its top law officer to defend its food policy, amid worries that it was ceding too much ground to the judiciary on matters of policy-making.

delhi Updated: Oct 29, 2010 00:20 IST
Satya Prakash and Zia Haq

The UPA government — under repeated attacks from the Supreme Court in an ongoing right-to-food case — has asked its top law officer to defend its food policy, amid worries that it was ceding too much ground to the judiciary on matters of policy-making.

The government has asked attorney general GE Vahanvati to steer the case, which will be heard again on Friday, an official familiar with the development said.

In its defence, the food ministry is likely to take the view that it is not the job of the courts to dictate policy-making, drawing upon PM Manmohan Singh’s recent stand that courts ought not interfere in executive functions.

"We are bringing in very senior lawyers to defend the government policies," food minister Sharad Pawar said, declining to name them.

The court has effected several changes in the way subsidised grains are given to the country’s approximately 270 million people below the poverty line (BPL), or 27.2% of all Indians.

Successive orders from the court are being seen by the government as diluting its food distribution policy.

In recent interventions, the court asked the government to consider giving state-held grains for free rather than letting it go waste for want of adequate storage facilities. It had come down heavily on the government for allowing approximately 67,000 tonnes of grains in Punjab and Haryana.

The SC has also called for a fresh survey of BPL families and that of poorest-of-the-poor families qualifying for the Antodaya Anna Yojna food scheme.

The right-to-food PIL wants the government to considerably expand the categories of people eligible for cheap grains and their share.

Currently, 6.52 crore BPL families get 35 kg of rice or wheat for Rs5.65 and Rs4.15 a kg respectively, including 2.43 crore poorest families, who get rice or wheat at Rs3 and Rs2 respectively.

However, fiscal constraints weigh heavily on the government.

The court has been monitoring the government's food policies since 2001, when it took up a right-to-food petition.