Monday, September 6, 2010

SC's grain advice may get govt snub

The policy stand-off between the Supreme Court and the Centre over food security is likely to deepen on Monday, with the latter set to either sidestep, brush aside or even openly disagree with the court's suggestions, especially the one on free distribution of foodgrain rotting in FCI and government godowns to the poorest of the poor.

A late evening meeting on Sunday to prepare the response to the SC's August 31 order on the working of PDS decided that the government should tiptoe around the suggestion to give grain free to the poor and hungry rather than waste it.

In the response it is to give on Monday, government will give details of the wastage in FCI and state
godowns, and attempt to rationalise it saying some of it "is inevitable".

According to sources, government plans to tell the court that it has, at the court's instance, decided to release an additional 25 lakh tonnes of PDS foodgrain for BPL families for six months as an ad hoc measure. A decision on the issue will have to wait till Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council has worked out the details of the proposed National Food Security Act.

The tentativeness, if calculated, will not be on display in the response to SC's suggestion for abolition of ration cards for above poverty line (APL) families. The court had said that there was no point in giving subsidized wheat or rice to those who could afford to buy it from open market when poor were not getting foodgrain.

The Centre, through additional solicitors general Mohan Parasaran and Harin Raval, plans to tell the SC that APL families were being given foodgrain only after meeting the needs of Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and BPL families.

Centre has also decided to make plain its disagreement with another suggestion of the court: not to procure foodgrain beyond storage capacity. The Centre again said it was impossible to limit procurement as by doing this it will hurt the Centre's policy to give attractive price to farmers and encourage them to grow grain.

If the procurement was limited to the storage capacity, then the farmers would be left at the mercy of traders who would not pay remunerative prices, government is likely to argue. It will stress that all attempts would be made to to increase storage capacity rather than limit procurement of foodgrain.