The Centre refrained from committing itself on the issue of providing free foodgrain to the poor but assured the Supreme Court that it was taking steps to provide wheat and rice at cheap prices to the poorest of the poor.
Appearing for the Centre,Additional Solicitor General told a Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma that the government had no intention of going into a “confrontation” with the judiciary and scotched speculation in a section of the media.
“It is respectfully submitted that the central government allocates foodgrain under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) for cardholders at highly subsidized prices. These are Rs 2 and Rs 3 per kg respectively for wheat and rice in case of Antyodaya Anna Yojana(AAY) beneficiaries.
“The element of subsidiy is Rs 13.44 per kg for wheat and Rs 17.43 per kg for rice. In case of BPL families,the central issue price is Rs 4.15 and Rs 5.65 per kg for wheat and rice respectively. Here too,the government of India is providing a subsidy of Rs 11.29 per kg for wheat and Rs 14.78 kg for rice,” it said adding allocation of 469-57 lakh tonnes under TPDS is being made.
The government virtually rejected the apex court’s observation that it must procure only that much of foodgrain which can be stored in the godowns instead of allowing it to rot.
In an affidavit,the Centre said any such step would adversely affect the interests of farmers.
“It would mean that in the years of peak procurements,when the markets are not very favourable,many farmers may not be able to sell their produce to these agencies and they would be left entirely at the mercy of traders who may not pay adequate prices.
“Absence of adequate returns or an assured guarantee from the procurement agencies for purchase of foodgrain will disincentivise farmers from sowing these crops in future and a substantial shift may take place to other non-foodgrain crops. This would then drastically impact the food security of the nation,” the affidavit said.
The affidavit comes in the backdrop of the apex court’s earlier direction that the government,instead of allowing the foodgrain to rot in godowns,distribute the same to the poor at “low cost or no cost.”