If you can’t store foodgrain, distribute it free to the poorest. That’s Supreme Court’s order to the Central government, faced with the shocking wastage of lakhs of tonnes of grain, rotting in the open.
As much as 17.8 million tonnes of food grain, enough to feed 140 million people for a month, is being wasted because of shortage of storage facilities.
“The food grains are rotting. You can look after your own people. As a part of short-term measure, distribute it to the hungry for free,” a bench, headed by Justice Dalveer Bhandari, told Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran, reminding the Centre of its responsibility to ensure food security.
A highly placed source in the agriculture ministry told HT, requesting anonymity, “We are in urgent need of urgent and massive structural reform. Implementing this order is going to be very difficult.”
The court was hearing a PIL filed by the People Union for Civil Liberties. The group had extensively quoted Hindustan Times’ reports in court to urge the government to act.
The court suggested the government should increase the quantity of food supply to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) cardholders and also open the fair price shops for all the 30 days in a month.
Parasaran told the court that it was not possible to store the foodgrains as there had been record procurement of wheat and rice of which the central pool stocks of 604.28 lakh tonnes. At this the bench said: “When you procure wheat or rice, you should ensure there is that much of storage capacity. You spend money to buy it. Instead of wasting it and letting it go down the drain, give it to the hungry people.”
It directed the government to construct at least one large Food Corporation of India godown in every State and consider the possibility of having a godown in every division if not in every district of the State.
On the request of the petitioner's counsel, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, the court ordered all the state governments to file an affidavit giving reasons for not distributing 35 kgs of wheat or rice per family as per its earlier directions.
The affidavits have to be filed within one week and the court would take up the matter on August 31. Gonsalves request came after Parasaran said the government was complying with the court order and releasing 35 kg per family to the states.