A panel set up by the Supreme Court to suggest measures for overcoming lapses in the public distribution system (PDS) and streamlining the process for making subsidised essential commodities available to the needy has recommended exclusion of the ‘above poverty line’ (APL) populace. The panel said the ration earmarked for them is routed to black market due to their abstinence from controlled price shops.
In a detailed report submitted to the top court, the panel headed by former SC judge DP Wadhwa recommends abolition of APL “as it is a source of diversion of food-grains into the black market”.
In case the court feels that it may not be “possible or desirable to abolish the APL category”, it may consider ‘limiting’ this category to households whose annual income is Rs1 lakh. This category could be called ‘marginally above poverty line’ with Rs3 lakh annual income, the report, a copy of which is with DNA, says.
In response to the court’s concern on a PIL filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in 2001, the panel has been making frequent suggestions that guided several interim-orders passed by the judges from time-to-time.
At the outset, it says that the failure of PDS is on account of various reasons such as collusion between persons involved in the supply system resulting in leakage and large scale diversion of food grains; flawed system of appointment of FPS (fair price shop) dealers; errors of inclusion and exclusion which deny targeted beneficiaries of their entitlement, resulting in faulty identification of target groups and virtually non-existent vigilance machinery at the grass root level.
The panel also recommends setting up of additional fast track courts for speedily dealing with traders, persons, officials and others, including ghost ration card holders, who defy various laws relating to food and its security besides eating away the basic food grains provided by the government at highly susbsidised rates.
Referring to the poorest of poor families who lack the power to buy food grain, the panel suggests that a ‘free coupon’ scheme should be introduced at the district, taluk and panchayat-level to render a helping hand to the families who are facing extreme pecuniary situation. Under this scheme, the officials concerned could distribute 10 food card coupons among the needy ration card-holders entitling them to draw 10kg ration per coupon from the FPS.
Holding that FPS business isn’t ‘hereditary’ in nature, the Wadhwa panel says, “It’s a known fact that FPS is the epicenter of corruption where the owner, transporter, corrupt officials and politicians are hand-in-glove to cheat the public.”
Keeping in view that FPS owners divert the PDS food grain into black market and earn illegal gain which “he shares with his collaborators”, the panel scoffs at the state government for promoting such shops. “When there is no profit, why should the state invite persons in whatever category, when he is bound to indulge in corruption?” the panel asks.
“The state cannot be seen sponsoring corruption or turning a blind eye to corruption. Diversion of PDS food grain to black market deprives the genuine beneficiary of the food grain meant for him,” it adds.
It strongly recommends take over of the FPS by the state or its instrumentalities or women and action groups.
Advocating that FPS should not be run by private individuals, it says the existing shops should be phased out gradually and their place be taken over by corporation run FPSs or cooperatives or women self-help groups.
The new look FPS could be allowed to sell other essential consumable commodities and if there’s any loss in the operations, the corporations could make good of that.