The government on Thursday decided to release an additional 2.5 million tonnes of foodgrains to states for distribution among the poor, following a reprimand from the Supreme Court over rotting foodgrains despite hungry millions.
However, the foodgrains will be distributed at rates prescribed for Below Poverty Line (BPL) families and not free.
"As an interim ad hoc measure, pending a final decision on the issue, the government is releasing an additional quantity of 2.5 million tonnes of wheat and rice to the states at a BPL price for next price," Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told reporters after a meeting of an Empowered Group of Ministers. HT had first reported on the rotting food grains that the Supreme Court had made note of.
The government is considering an overhaul of PDS (public distribution system) including upgrading the number of eligible BPL families. This is expected to increase the number of BPL families eligible for assistance and corresponding increase in allocation by central government.
The Supreme Court had on August 31 taken strong exception to the government not complying with its earlier order on distributing foodgrains lying idle in godowns to the poor.
Currently, there are 6.52 crore families registered under the BPL category and they are each eligible for 35 kg of food grains a month. Rice is distributed to BPL families at R5.65 a kg, while wheat is allotted
at R4.15 a kg. After the proposed overhaul, the number of BPL families is expected to increase to 8.1 crore.
"It was not a suggestion. It is there in our order. It is part of our order. You tell the Minister about it," a Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma told the government counsel Additional Solicitor General Mohan on August 31, reacting to inaction by the government to put the foodgrain to use before they rot.
The EGoM meeting chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee followed the court's censure.
Pawar had said in Parliament on August 31 that the government will honour the decision of the Supreme Court's order of August 12. "Give it to the hungry poor instead of it (grains) going down the drain," the Bench said in an order that followed reports of food wastage.
The Food Corporation of India, which is responsible for warehousing foodgrains, in a response to a RTI query admitted to wastage of over 1.3 million tonnes of foodgrain in various warehouses over the past decade. A report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for 2009 faulted Punjab for losing a high quantity of foodgrain in storage.