Supreme Court slams ‘pathetic’ response to food distribution law
Answering a petition filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan that sought relief for farmers in drought-affected states, the apex court ruled that the 2013 act had not been implemented properly and had even been postponed in some parts of the country.
The NGO alleged that authorities had not provided adequate relief in parts of drought-hit Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chhattisgarh.
The Food Security Act was signed into law to provide subsidised food grains to some two-thirds of India’s population. Under its provisions, beneficiaries are entitled to 5kg of cereals per month at prices of INR1-3 (US$0.016-0.047) per kilo.
Critics have accused the act of being fiscally irresponsible, while some lawmakers suggested that the government at the time had used it to buy votes among the poor.
"We are in general agreement with counsel for the petitioner and the fact that even after prodding by central government and our prodding, many of the state governments have not yet established working state food commissions,” the court ruled.
“This is a clear indication that there is hardly any commitment to the implementation of the National Food Security Act.”
The bench directed the secretary of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution to work with individual states by August 31 to make adequate arrangements to provide infrastructure, staffing and resources for functioning state food commissions.
“A law enacted by parliament as part of its social justice obligation must be given its due respect and implemented faithfully, sincerely and positively before the end of this year,” the court ruled.
It also singled out an affidavit filed by the state of Haryana, which said that there had hardly been any work for its state food commission to complete.
"With such an attitude, it is very unlikely that any progress will ever be made either by the state of Haryana or the state food commission in Haryana in the matter of food security," the court said, adding: "One can only feel sorry for the people in Haryana.”