SC for Doing Away With Fair Price Shops Under PDS

Favouring the idea of doing away with private fair price shops for food grains distribution under PDS system, the Supreme Court today asked the government to explore a mechanism to put in place the recommendations of the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) till it becomes a law.

The court said it was concerned with the effectiveness of the public distribution system (PDS) and since the Centre was in agreement with the Justice D P Wadhwa Committee's suggestions, there was a need to keep in mind its "broad recommendations" and the "road map" shown by the NFSB to administratively put a mechanism through an executive order in the interregnum.

A bench comprising justices T S Thakur and Fakkir M Kalifulla was of the view that no one system of PDS can be 'perfect' and it should be left to the states to ideally run it by state-level corporations, panchayati raj institutions, cooperatives and registered women's self-help groups as recommended in the Wadhwa report.

The bench, which accepted the findings of the Wadhwa committee on the ills prevalent in the present PDS, clearly stated, "There was a need to switch over from private shops where there have been "large-scale pilferage" as "the food grains are not reaching the real beneficiaries".

The court, which said its aim was to "bridge the gap between the present and the future in view of the pending bill," took into account the submission of Attorney General G E Vahanvati that "nothwithstanding the fact that NFSB is pending in Parliament, its provisions can be implemented by way of an executive order in the interregnum".

He told the bench the implementation of the provisions of the bill entails an additional central financial burden of around Rs 23,000 crore on account of food subsidy and exact amount of subsidy may vary depending upon the final shape of the NFSB while getting its approval in Parliament. 

The Centre submitted that the states have also favoured setting up of state-level corporation for PDS.

While accepting that there would be additional burden on the states, the bench said, "There was a need for effective measures to streamline the entire PDS as there is an uncertainty when the bill will become a law".

It asked the Attorney General to explore administratively the mechanism to implement the salient features of NFSB.

"Can you administratively and from the executive point of view bring the suggestions as the bill envisages. The bill has given a road map for the future. It is a treasury bench's bill.

"You are legislatively bringing the system. You administratively provide some structure instead of we giving some directions," the bench told Vahanvati.

"You should have the vision what to shape up as per the bill. We are only concerned with the effectiveness of the system," it said.

When the Attorney General said the only aim was that the foodgrains should reach to the real beneficiaries, the bench mentioned the targeted public distribution system envisaged by Tamil Nadu and Jammu Kashmir governments and the distribution of foodgrains through registered women's self-help groups like Mahila Mandal in Chhattisgarh which have proved effective.

Vahanvati said the Parliamentary Committee has given a report on the bill and the government has to take a decision and hoped that NFSB will see the light of the day in the budget session of Parliament.

The bench, which posted the matter for further hearing on March 4, said it wanted to put an end to the PIL on the issue which has been in the apex court for last 12 years and also wanted to give relief to the Wadhwa Committee which has been working for last six years.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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