Govt Releases Grain to Poor, But at a Price
Reacting to the rap from the Supreme Court that was delivered to Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, the government has now decided to release an extra 2.5 million tonnes of foodgrains to states for distribution among the poor but it will not be 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 the price fixed for Below Poverty Line consumers for next six months,” Mr. Pawar told reporters after a meeting of an Empowered Group of Ministers.
Sources said the meeting deferred a decision on increasing the price of sugar and foodgrains sold through ration shops, an issue that has been hanging fire for a long time.
On 12th August, the apex court had orally observed that the government should ensure free distribution of foodgrains to poor instead of letting them rot. However, in the written order the court said “The government shall supply foodgrains to poor at low cost or no cost.”
Pawar said after today’s meeting that “The government is considering an overhaul of the 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.”
Currently, there are 6.52 crore families registered under the BPL category who are each eligible for 35 kg of food grains a month. Rice is distributed to BPL families at Rs 5.65 a kg, while wheat is allotted at Rs 4.15 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 Pawar’s remarks that it was a suggestion.
The Food Corporation of India, which is responsible for warehousing foodgrains, in a response to a Right to Information query admitted to wastage of over 1.3 million tonnes of foodgrains 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 foodgrains in storage.