Can't give grains for free: Pawar

Agriculture Minister says it is not feasible to give grains for free as suggested by Supreme Court

By Ravleen Kaur
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Thursday made it clear that it was not possible for the government to implement Supreme Court's order to distribute foodgrains for free to the poor.

Supreme Court in an order on August 12 had asked the government to distribute foodgrain for free to the poor to overcome the problem of rotting grains. "The foodgrain is rotting. You can look after your own people. As part of short-term measure, distribute it to the hungry for free," the court had said. It also gave two other options to the government to dispose off the rotting grain; to increase the quantum of  food supply to population living below poverty line and open fair price shops for all 30 days in a month.

The Supreme Court Bench gave the suggestions in response to a public interest suit filed by the civil rights group People's Union for Civil Liberties on rampant corruption in the public distribution system (PDS), besides rotting of foodgrain in Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns.

FCI has more than 57.9 million tons of stock lying with it as against the standard buffer stock of 31.9 million tons as on July 1 this year. The total storage capacity of FCI is around 27 million tons. Apart from this, about 29.5 million tons is lying covered with plastic. From this, about 1.36 lakh tons of wheat procured by Punjab state agencies in 2008-09 has already faced two monsoon seasons. It was in 2002 last time that the food stocks had reached an unprecedented limit of 64.83 million tons. The government had then exported grains to Europe at very low prices for feeding cattle there. According to the sources, this time there will be no export, however, government might curtail procurement resulting in loss to farmers.

Reacting to the SC order and Pawar's decision Bhaskar Goswami of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security said, "The whole problem of rotting grain would not have been there if there was a political will to sort out the corrupt PDS system. Even the SC is not clear about issues on ground. Why was it not bothered about the poor people unless there were reports of rotting grain?" According to Goswami, distribution of free grain would have opened a window to corruption. "When subsidized grain has resulted in so much diversion of grain from PDS, how can one ensure that free grain will not end up in the open market too," he said.

"The main thing that SC asked the government was why it did not give away food grain free to the poor rather then let it rot. But the Food Ministry has not come out with a single satisfactory answer to the  problem. They could have easily expanded BPL quota in 150 poorest districts as the National Advisory Council has suggested. But the Ministry neither seems to have neither the resolve nor the vision to manage food economy of the country," said Biraj Patnaik, Principal Adviser to the Commissioners of the Supreme Court.

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