LOK PAL BILL CAMPAIGN : Prime Minister speech in the Lok Sabha debate on Corruption

Manmohan Singh, current prime minister of India.

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Following is the text of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s uncorrected speech in the Lok Sabha on corruption:

PRIME MINISTER : Hon. Speaker Madam, I am very happy that at long last, the House had a debate on the issue of corruption. I thank all the Members who participated in this debate.

Madam, that corruption is a major national issue is something a matter about which there is unanimity in the country. That we should collectively work to find credible approaches, credible solutions to deal with this scourge is also a matter, which unites all sections of thinking public opinion in our country.

Madam, I share that perception; and on behalf of our Government, I would like to assure this august House that in the two and A half years of period that is left to us, we will do everything in our power to clean the system of this country.

Madam, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi is not here. Yesterday, he made a powerful speech and he turned into a personal attack on me as if I am the fountain head of corruption and that I have knowingly connived at corruptions of some of my colleagues.… (Interruptions)

MADAM SPEAKER: Nothing else will go on record.

PRIME MINISTER : Madam, I consider it beneath my dignity to enter into an argument on issues which are before the PAC, issues which are in our courts. In my seven years as Prime Minister even when the Opposition Members have accused me of many crimes, I have never used harsh language in describing the conduct of any Member of this House.

Madam, I would like to assert before this House that I have a public life in the service of this country for nearly 41 years. In these 41 years of my public life, 20 years in Parliament I have tried to serve this country to the best of my ability.

I, as Finance Minister, inherited an economy with bankrupt treasury, with foreign exchange reserves totally exhausted, with credit worthiness of our country seriously in doubt. We turned around that economy. We have ensured that this economy, the bankrupt economy that we inherited, has become one of the fastest growing economies of the world.

Madam, whatever the Members of the Opposition may say, the fact is that India is respected all over the world. I think that is because of the inherent strength of our economy, of our polity, of our democratic system but at the margin, in these seven years or as earlier as Finance Minister, I did make a small contribution in my own way to enhance the prestige of this country, and therefore, while charges are leveled against me, it hurts but I am not going to convert this forum into a forum for accusation one way or the other. All I can say is that if any wrongdoing has been done by me, I invite the Leader of the Opposition to look at my property which I may have accumulated in the last 41 years, my members of my family … (Interruptions)

I would accept the verdict of the Leader of the Opposition if they find that I have used public office to amass wealth for myself or for any member of my family.

Madam, in the course of seven years as Prime Minister, I may have made mistakes. Who is above making mistakes? To err is human but to accuse me of evil intentions, of conniving at corruption is a charge I firmly repudiate.

Madam, this is not an occasion to trade allegations to and fro and I am not going to deal with this matter as the matter is before the court or before the various Committees of Parliament and they will come with their own conclusions. I would, however, like to say that corruption is a multifaceted problem. Therefore, we, as a nation, have to find practical, pragmatic means but effective means to tackle it, and this is not merely the responsibility of the Central Government. The State Governments are responsible for over 50 per cent of the total national spending and the conduct of the State Governments, which is the one way people come in contact with Government, is essentially the responsibility of the States. There is anger in the country. There is anger about the misuse of public offices.

Therefore, both at the Centre and the States, it is our obligation to clean up the system of governance to reforming and to ensure that we leave behind for our children and grand children a system of public administration which is capable of meeting the challenge of the 21st Century. I commit our Government to doing precisely that. In my address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort, I listed a number of areas where in the next couple of months I would like our Government to take initiative and I stand committed to whatever I promised from the ramparts of the Red fort.

Madam, corruption sources are numerous. Until the early 90s, the biggest single source of corruption was the licensing system, the industrial licensing system, the import controls and the foreign exchange controls. The liberalisation that we brought about has ended that part of this corruption story.

Another major part of corruption was the rates of taxation which were so exorbitant that people were tempted to enter into corrupt practices to reduce their tax liabilities. We have, I venture to suggest, ourselves and the successor Governments worked hard to simplify to streamline the taxation system and on balance there is less scope for corruption as far as taxation matters are concerned. Even though I recognise that a residual element is still there and we have to work together through various mechanisms, including goods and services tax which is now in public domain and, which is, I believe, an obligation which our country must fulfil if it wants to move forward. But, there are many other areas where corruption still persists. We have to tackle this problem from various angles.

There are Central Government programmes administered by the State Governments but there are leakages. Therefore, we must find ways and means of reforming the system of public administration so that these leakages can be plucked. Malfunctioning of public distribution has been widely commented upon. We must, therefore, devise new methodologies to ensure that Public Distribution System will be free of malpractices. This is an obligation which we can discharge only with full collaboration with the State Governments and discharge we must. But I would like this House to endorse the reform of the Public Distribution System, where the ordinary people come in contact with Government machinery or meeting the basic needs of existence of livelihood, is cleaned up.

Madam, yet another source is, where Government contracts are given in a manner which creates suspicion that something is going wrong. Therefore, we need a Public Procurement Act, as some other countries have, to streamline our contracting mechanisms in a manner in which there will be less scope for corruption in future.

Madam, in certain areas, greater competition itself will reduce the scope for corruption. But, we still know that there are areas of infrastructure where competition can at best be only limited. There is scope for regulation. We have, in the last couple of years, put in place regulatory mechanisms, but the functioning of these regulatory mechanisms, especially with regard to the management of the infrastructure, is something which requires attention. That is yet another area where we must find ways and means to streamline the regulatory system, so that there is less scope for corruption.

I could go on. But I do not want to repeat what I said from the ramparts of the Red Fort. The House has my assurance that we will work in full public glare to fulfil what we have promised. I have set up a group under Shri Pranab Mukherjee to look at the scope for reducing the amount of discretion that ministers have at the Centre. This group has made some important suggestions. They will be considered by the Cabinet and we will put in place a mechanism to reduce the scope for misuse of discretionary power or to eliminate discretionary power wherever it can be done without detriment to public interest or achievement of public good.

Madam, it is in the context of corruption that the last few weeks have seen momentous developments. Shri Anna Hazare has gone on fast. His plea is that we should adopt the Jan Lokpal Bill that has been drafted by them. The background of this whole exercise is well known to this august House. We have sittings together with the five representatives of Shri Anna Hazare, including himself, who met with our five representatives and a large measure of agreement was reached with regard to the shape of the Lokpal Bill that we should have. On certain matters there was disagreement and that disagreement could not be resolved and therefore we have referred that matter for consideration of the All Parties Committee and the said consensus was that the Government should come with its own version of the Bill and various Parties would then reflect on what to do with that Bill. We discharged that obligation. We submitted that Bill to Parliament. It has now been referred to the Standing Committee.

This Standing Committee can consider all options and we can find ways and means of ensuring that the Bill that has been prepared by Shri Anna Hazare is given due consideration by this Committee. Also, along with this, there are other ideas. There is Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan’s group which produced a Bill; there are ideas which have been mentioned in a paper by Shrimati Aruna Roy. All these matters can be discussed, debated and a consensus can be built up in the Standing Committee. We are open to all suggestions. We will work with all sections of this House to have a Lokpal, who is strong, who is effective and about which there is a national consensus.

We have produced a Bill which reflects the thinking of our Government. But we are open to persuasion and we have an open mind and when we discuss this Bill, whether in Parliament or in the Standing Committee, we will work with a single minded devotion to ensure that we leave behind for posterity a Lokpal Bill which does credit to our concerns for meeting the challenge of corruption. Madam, yesterday there was a very good meeting of all political parties. All political parties agreed that we should request Shri Anna Hazare to give up his fast and that we should find ways and means to ensure that ideas reflected in the Jan Lokpal Bill are given adequate consideration in parliamentary processes and that we should come forward with a strong, effective Bill which has the broad support of the country as a whole. I commit our Government to working with all sections of the House to realise this dream. Therefore, I urge all Members of the House to join me in making an appeal to Shri Anna Hazare that he has made his point. It has been registered with us. I respect his idealism. I respect him as an individual. He has become the embodiment of our people’s disgust and concern about tackling corruption. I applaud him, I salute him. His life is much too precious and therefore, I would urge Shri Anna Hazare to end his fast.

We will find effective ways and means of discussing the Jan Lokpal Bill along with the Government version of the Bill along with Shrimati Aruna Roy’s Bill, along with the ideas in the paper that Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan has submitted. All ideas should be discussed, debated so that we have a Bill which is the best possible Bill, which will help us to deal with the problem of corruption.

Madam, it has been mentioned to me that Shri Anna Hazare and his colleagues are very keen that their Bill should be discussed in the Parliament. I have not thought over this matter in great depth, but a thought comes to me that perhaps we could have a debate in this House on all the Bills that are in the public domain and have a discussion what are the weak points of various Bills and what are the strong points of various Bills and at the end of that debate, send the whole record for consideration of the Standing Committee of the Parliament. I have a feeling that this will meet the point that Shri Anna Hazare and his colleagues have been making that Parliament must have a chance to give its views on their Bill before sending it to the Standing Committee and therefore, I submit to this august House that this is one via media which will respect the parliamentary supremacy and, at the same time, enable Parliament to take on board ideas contained in the Lokpal Bill drafted by Shri Anna Hazare and his colleagues. Madam, I conclude by appealing to all sections of the House to join in appeal that I have made to Shri Anna Hazare that his life is much too precious. We would like him to live a long life and a happy life in the service of our people. He has registered his point. Therefore, we respectfully request him to end his fast. I think that if we do it, then this would be a befitting finale to this very constructive debate on corruption and in tackling it that has taken place in this House since yesterday.”

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A cruel joke on the nation

JAN LOK PAL

JAN LOK PAL COMMITTEE MEMEBERS

PRASHANT BHUSHAN SR. ADVOCATE  IN THE HINDU

All that the government’s Lokpal bill would do is to create an illusion that it has acceded to the public demand for an independent anti-corruption agency.

The Union Cabinet announced on July 28 that in order to honour the commitment it had given to Anna Hazare and the nation at large, it would table a Lokpal bill during the monsoon session of Parliament beginning on August 1. Though the exact contents of the bill as approved by the Cabinet is not known, its basic features as announced by various Ministers show that such a Lokpal as envisaged in the government’s bill will not be able to tackle any significant case of corruption and will in fact be a cruel joke on the nation.

Looking at the major scams that have erupted in recent times, we find that the government’s Lokpal, apart from being sarkari in the sense that it will be selected by a committee dominated by people from the government, would not be able to investigate them. Thus, it would not be able to investigate the Commonwealth Games scam, the Bellary mining scam or the Adarsh Society scam, since it would have no jurisdiction over State government officials. Similarly, it would not be able to investigate the Public Distribution System scam or the scams in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, because it would have no jurisdiction over officials below Group A. For the same reason it would not be able to take up any of the corruption cases that plague the common people. It would not even be able to investigate the cash-for-votes scam, since that involves the acts of MPs in Parliament. It would also not be able to properly investigate the 2G spectrum scam, since it cannot call for papers from the Prime Minister’s Office, which are relevant for a proper investigation.

Quite apart from the severely restricted nature of the sarkari Lokpal’s mandate, the distinction drawn by the government’s bill between the level of the officers to be investigated (with lower-level officials to be investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that is under the government, and higher-level officials by the Lokpal) would create enormous confusion about jurisdiction. Since one often does not know in advance the level of the officers who may be involved in a scam, and usually officials of all levels are involved, one would not know whether to lodge the complaint with the government’s CBI or the sarkari Lokpal. If the CBI started an investigation into the Public Distribution System scam on the basis of the assumption that it involved junior officials, and then found that the money trail goes right up to the top, would the investigation then be transferred to the Lokpal? That would lead to duplication of investigation, apart from the very real possibility of the CBI having already ruined the investigation. That is why different investigative agencies are not designated to investigate offences depending on the identity of the culprits. Thus, normally there is one agency to investigate offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act irrespective of the status of the person involved. There may be a different agency to investigate separate offences under other laws, such as the Enforcement Directorate for offences under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, or the Income Tax Department for offences coming under the Income Tax Act. And will we allow corruption by junior officials to be dealt with by the same agencies that are today sleeping over it?

On UNCAC lines

The Jan Lokpal bill had been framed on the lines suggested by the U.N. Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which requires all countries to establish independent anti-corruption agencies which would have the jurisdiction to investigate all public officials. The civil society group has therefore tried to set up a comprehensive, independent, empowered but fully accountable Jan Lokpal which would have an adequate investigative machinery under its control (the anti-corruption wing of the CBI to begin with, which would be brought under the administrative and supervisory control of the Jan Lokpal) and would be able to investigate all Central public servants for corruption. The Jan Lokpal bill also provided for Lokayuktas in the States that would be similarly empowered to investigate State public servants. Moreover, the Jan Lokpal would be selected by a broad-based selection committee that would be largely independent of the government, to avoid the kind of farce that has been witnessed in the selection of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC).

What we have in the government’s bill is an agency that would be essentially selected by the government (five of the nine members of the selection committee would be government nominees), would have jurisdiction over less than half a per cent of the public servants, and would be additionally crippled by the fact of not being able to investigate the Prime Minister, judges or MPs for corruption connected with their acts in Parliament. They say that nine members of the Lokpal cannot handle complaints against 40 lakh Central public servants. But that would be done by the investigating machinery supervised by the Lokpal. It has been estimated that on a ratio of one Lokpal official for every 200 public servants, the Lokpal would have a total of about 20,000 officials working under it. That is a medium-sized department. The Delhi Police alone has 80,000 officials.

On the Prime Minister, judiciary

Some of the provisions of the government’s proposal, such as granting immunity from investigation to the Prime Minister, show illiteracy about the basic features of the Constitution. In 1975, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the Constitution (39th Amendment) Act that sought to put the election of the Prime Minister above challenge, on the ground that such a provision would violate the basic structure of the Constitution. A provision to grant immunity from investigation and prosecution to the Prime Minister would similarly fall foul of several basic features of the Constitution. In no civilised country is the head of the government immune from corruption investigation. Even in India he or she has not been immune. The CBI can, and occasionally under court directions has, investigated the Prime Minister (as in the case involving some leaders of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha). The problem is that the CBI is under the Prime Minister himself and therefore cannot conduct a credible investigation of the Prime Minister. That was the entire rationale for an independent Lokpal — to free the agency investigating corruption from the administrative control of the very people that it may seek to investigate. This is precisely what the UNCAC requires.

Similarly, the rationale for the government’s proposal to remove the judiciary from the Lokpal’s ambit suffers also from conceptual confusion. They say that bringing the judiciary within the investigative ambit of the Lokpal would compromise the independence of the judiciary. The judiciary needs to be independent of the government. Normally the police or the CBI can investigate judges for corruption. However, the Supreme Court in Veeraswami’s case directed that since the police are under the government, which can be used by the government to harass judges by way of investigation, the prior written permission of the Chief Justice of India would be required for such investigation. This, despite the fact there had been no instance of any judge being harassed in such a manner, since the judiciary can always use its power of judicial review to quash any mala fide investigation.

However, if the investigation of judges would be done by a Lokpal that would be independent of the government (with the further safeguard in the Jan Lokpal bill that a bench of seven members of the Lokpal would grant permission for investigation or prosecution of judges), the whole rationale for the permission of the Chief Justice disappears. We have seen that in the past such permissions have often been denied even in deserving cases for reasons of conflict of interest. Yet the government’s bill seeks to exempt judicial corruption from being investigated by an independent Lokpal, and seeks to retain the present system of investigation by a government-controlled agency after obtaining permission from the Chief Justice of India.

India is today plagued by corruption of such enormous breadth and depth and running across all public authorities that it is now at serious risk of becoming a banana republic and a mafia state. It was in recognition of this alarming reality, demanding a comprehensive, independent, empowered though accountable anti-corruption authority, that Anna Hazare went on an indefinite fast on April 5, 2011.

After seeing the extent of public support for this demand, the government agreed to a joint drafting committee for the Lokpal bill. Refusing to meet most of the demands of the civil society group in the Jan Lokpal bill, the government has now come out with its bill, which will not succeed in tackling even one per cent of India’s corruption.

All that the bill will do is to create an illusion that the government has acceded to the public demand for an independent anti-corruption agency. But the government will have to pay a heavy price for again having underestimated the ability of the people to see through such a charade. The long suffering people have had enough. Come August 16, they will get a glimpse of public anger.

(Prashant Bhushan is a Senior Advocate and member of the civil society team that drafted the Jan Lokpal Bill.)

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2306020.ece

Mending the Food Security Act

New National Advisory Council(NAC)of India: So...

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Jean Drèze IN THE HINDU

The National Advisory Council has proposed a framework for the National Food Security Act. But its potential could be wasted by a flawed approach to the PDS.

Two years have passed since the Central government announced that a draft National Food Security Act (NFSA) would be posted on the Food Ministry’s website “very soon.” After prolonged deliberations, a detailed framework for this Act has recently been proposed by the National Advisory Council (NAC), and a draft is on the anvil. This is a “compromise draft” of sorts, heavily influenced by the government’s own concerns and priorities.

The NAC framework includes important provisions relating, for instance, to child nutrition, reform of the public distribution system (PDS), and redress of grievances. It has the potential to put all food-related schemes on a new footing, in a rights framework. However, this potential is in danger of being wasted by a flawed approach to the PDS.

In this approach, the PDS rests on a three-way division of the population, among “priority,” “general” and “excluded” households. (This article focusses on rural areas.) Priority households, covering at least 46 per cent of the rural population at the all-India level, are to get 35 kg of grain a month at “Antyodaya prices” (Rs. 3 a kg for rice, Rs. 2 for wheat and Re. 1 for millets). General households will get 20 kg at no more than half of the Minimum Support Price. And excluded households, which account for 10 per cent of the rural population, will get nothing.

This framework is problematic. First, it hinges on a lasting division of the population into three groups, without any clarity as to how the groups are to be identified. In the absence of any obvious alternative, the NAC is effectively falling back on the Below Poverty Line census to identify priority groups. This is a major setback — the NAC’s entire work began with a virtually unanimous rejection of BPL-based targeting for the PDS. Exclusion errors in earlier BPL censuses were very large, and the next BPL census is unlikely to fare much better, judging from the pilot survey.

Second, since identification criteria are left to the Central government, with some discretion for State governments, nobody has guaranteed PDS entitlements under the Act, except for a few ultra-marginalised groups (such as the so-called Primitive Tribal Groups) which have a right of “automatic inclusion” in the priority list. Other households have no legal entitlement to be included in the priority list or, for that matter, in the general list. Therefore, they have no guaranteed PDS entitlements at all. This undermines the basic purpose of the Act.

Third, the transition from the current Above Poverty Line-Below Poverty Line framework to the NAC framework is likely to be disruptive. There are at least three major sources of disruption: the creation of an “excluded” category; the transition to a new BPL list; and the switch from household to per capita entitlements. Each of these changes entails a loss of entitlements for significant numbers of households. Meanwhile, the entitlements of other households will be enhanced. Can we expect this transition to happen without major tensions, or even to be completed at all?

Fourth, the NAC framework fails to “de-link” PDS entitlements from official poverty estimates, and to prevent a rapid shrinkage of PDS coverage over time. It is well understood by now that official poverty lines in India are abysmally low, and that undernutrition is not confined to households below the “poverty line.” In the NAC framework, 46 per cent coverage of priority groups in rural areas corresponds to the proportion of the population below the “Tendulkar poverty line,” plus a margin of 10 per cent for targeting errors. This is significantly higher than the current BPL coverage of about 33 per cent. But except for ruling out any reduction of PDS entitlements before the end of the 12th Five Year Plan (which is only a few years from now), nothing in the draft NFSA prevents the government from reducing PDS coverage in tandem with official poverty estimates over the years.

Fifth, the idea of a universal PDS in the poorest 200 districts was dropped from the NAC framework (after being agreed and placed on record). This was an important idea, because any targeting process here is likely to lead to massive delays, fraud, and exclusion errors. In many of these districts, the local administration has little credibility. Large numbers of poor households are outside the BPL list, and are likely to remain excluded from the proposed “priority” list. Further, targeting is pointless in areas where an overwhelming majority of the population is vulnerable to food insecurity. Launching a universal PDS in these districts would have addressed a large part of the food insecurity problem in rural India in one go, at a small extra cost.

Sixth, the NAC abandoned another important idea as it went along: the automatic inclusion of all Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) households in the priority list — unless they come within the standard exclusion criteria. This will be a major protection against exclusion errors, and a well-justified form of positive discrimination in favour of SC/ST families. But the idea was dropped, on the grounds that it is difficult to reconcile with pre-specified “caps” on the coverage of priority groups at the State level based on poverty estimates. Punjab, for instance, has a low poverty ratio but a high proportion of SC/STs in the population — there is no obvious way to handle this.

In short, the NAC framework not only perpetuates the flaws of BPL targeting but also institutionalises artificial social divisions under the law. It is not difficult to imagine the Act being used as a foothold to extend these divisions to other domains.

The obvious alternative, a universal PDS, is a ‘no-no’ for the Central government. Is there another way to repair, or at least contain, the damage? I believe there is. Before coming to that, let me mention an interesting finding of recent BPL identification studies (by Reetika Khera, Sabina Alkire, and Himanshu, and others). These analyses, mainly based on the 2004-05 data from the National Sample Survey or the 2005-06 data from the National Family Health Survey, suggest that about 25 to 30 per cent of households in rural India meet simple, transparent and verifiable “exclusion criteria,” such as having a government job, owning a motorised vehicle, or living in a multi-storied pucca house.

This suggests a simple but far-reaching modification of the NAC framework: expand the excluded category, but extend “priority” entitlements (35 kg of grain at Antyodaya prices) to all other households. With an exclusion ratio of, say, 30 per cent, the foodgrain requirements will be the same as in the current NAC framework. The financial cost will be a little higher (because all entitled households will pay Antyodaya prices), but the extra cost will be a small fraction of the total food subsidy.

In this “quasi-universal” framework, every rural household will be entitled, by law, to 35 kg of grain a month at Antyodaya prices, unless it comes within the well-defined “exclusion criteria.” Everyone will be clear about their legal entitlements. The burden of proof, so to speak, will fall on the government to exclude a household, and poor households will be well protected from exclusion errors. State governments will be free to move even closer to universalisation, if they wish, by waiving some exclusion criteria and contributing additional resources to the PDS (as many States are already doing). Automatic inclusion of SC/STs (unless they come within the exclusion criteria) will be built in. PDS entitlements will be de-linked from the APL-BPL rigmarole, and from poverty estimates. And while some social division will remain, it will be “at the top,” without undermining solidarity among disadvantaged groups.

Two further modifications of the NAC framework will round up this proposal quite nicely. First, the idea of a universal PDS in the poorest 200 districts could easily be reinstated, by waiving exclusion criteria in these districts for an initial period of, say, 20 years. Second, the Act could be gradually extended to the whole country, over a period of, say, three years, starting with the poorest 200 districts. This will make it easier to meet the additional foodgrain requirements in a phased manner.

This approach is not perfect, but it seems much preferable to the confused, impractical and divisive framework that has emerged from the NAC (or rather, from protracted discussions between the NAC and the government). It will be easy to adapt the current NFSA draft to this approach, while retaining the valuable work that has been done by the NAC on other aspects of the draft. This small modification could make a big difference.

(The author is a Visiting Professor at the University of Allahabad. The views expressed here are his own.)

Foodgrains order will hit farmers, impact food security: Govt to SC

FROM THE INDIAN EXPRESS

The Union Food Ministry today told the Supreme Court that its suggestion on limiting food procurement to available storage facilities, if put to action, would hit the poor farmer and “drastically impact food security of the nation”.

In a 19-page affidavit, C Vishwanath, joint secretary in the Ministry, said: “If Food Corporation of India (FCI) and state government agencies that do the work of procurement were to limit procurement only to the extent of their storage capacities, it would mean that in years of peak procurements, when markets are not very favourable, many farmers may not be able to sell their produce… and… would be left… at the mercy of traders who may not pay adequate prices.”

The government said this would force it to go back on the assurance to farmers that “whatever quantities of foodgrains they wish to sell to the government at minimum support prices would be purchased by the FCI and the state agencies” provided quality specifications are met.“Absence of adequate returns or an assured guarantee from the government procurement agencies for purchase of foodgrains will dis-incentivise farmers from sowing these crops in future”. The affidavit went on to explain how the court’s suggestion would cause a “substantial shift to other non-food crops” in agriculture. “This would then drastically impact the food security of the nation,” the government said.

It would be best — “with a view to protecting the interests of farmers and thereby ensuring that food security of the country is not adversely impacted” — to augment “production and procurement” rather than limit food purchase to storage space, the government said.Procurement has gone up from 36.2 million tonnes in 2006-07 to 53.77 million tonnes as on September 4, 2010, the affidavit stated.

The bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma said it was “very happy to note the government’s comprehensive affidavit”. It asked senior advocate Colin Gonsalves to file a reply within a week. The case is posted for September 24. The Ministry refused to agree with another Supreme Court suggestion to “abolish” Above Poverty Line (APL) consumers from the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) and give surplus food to their BPL and AAY (Antyodaya Anna Yojana) counterparts.“A food security law is under consideration of the government. In the light of the existing stock position, allocations for BPL/AAY categories under the TPDS are not likely to be impacted by allocations to APL,” the government countered. It said TPDS allocation to APL is also “essential” to meet food security requirements in food-deficit and food-insecure states and areas.Besides, the government today declared its decision to push in, on an ad hoc basis, an additional quantity of 25 lakh tons of wheat/rice at BPL prices for the next six months. The allocation will start in a week, Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran told the court.

The government said AAY households include the “poorest-of-poor” and the scheme has been extended thrice to cover 2.5 crore BPL households — from potters to snake charmers to the terminally-ill to single women to primitive tribal households.

To the court’s suggestion that SC/STs should be part of AAY guidelines, the government said: “AAY is meant to serve the poorest of the poor families and does not include community-based identification of families”.

To the court’s view that 150 of the poorest districts in the country be allocated 35 kg of food grains at Rs 3 per kg, the government said the National Advisory Council has so far not mentioned any criteria for identification of the “most disadvantaged districts”.On the court directive to warn fake ration cardholders, the government said that 174.59 lakh bogus or ineligible ration cards had been deleted by states/Union Territories as per information on July 31, 2010.


25 lakh tons of grains at BPL prices

* Govt allocates 25 lakh tons of wheat/rice at BPL prices for next 6 months.

* A guarantee of ten years for assured hiring to private sector for construction of scientific godowns.

* Total capacity increase in last 2 years due to private sector participation — 55.5 lakh tons.

* Capacity utilisation has gone up from 74 per cent to 91 per cent.

* Food grains damaged in FCI godowns: 2,689 tons wheat, 9,647 tons rice, 82 tons paddy.