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Govt to 'release' foodgrains for poor

PTI  

New Delhi: The government has decided to release an extra 2.5 million tonnes of foodgrains to states for distribution among the poor. However, it won’t be free.

The move comes after Supreme Court directed the government to ‘distribute foodgrains among poor instead of rotting them in godowns’.

"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 six months," Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told reporters after a meeting of an Empowered Group of Ministers.

The meeting of the EGoM headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee came two days after the Supreme Court slammed Pawar for calling the court's Aug 12 on the issue as a suggestion.

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 Aug 12, 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 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."

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.

Following the court's observations, Pawar had said in Parliament on August 31 that the government will honour the decision of the Supreme Court's order of August 12.

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.

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