Base ration subsidy on 2011 census for better coverage: SC

New Delhi, May 3 (IANS) The Supreme Court Friday said that it would be “ideal” to make latest projection of people eligible for subsidized ration under the targeted public distribution system (TPDS) on the basis of 2011 census data.

“To take the latest census figures (2011) and then make the projection on the number of eligible people to be covered (under the TPDS) will be an ideal situation,” said a bench of Justice T.S.Thakur and Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla.

The court’s suggestion came it was told that present projections were based on 1991 census figures, though two more census exercises had followed in 2001 and 2011. The court was hearing a PIL by People’s Union for Civil Liberties, seeking the revamping of PDS and bringing all the people eligible to be covered under the TPDS under its net.

The court’s proceedings are based on the reports of Justice Wadhwa Committee which has made several recommendations, including freeing PDS from the clutches of private control.

As the court perused the chart showing the convergence and divergence in the position of the petitioner and various state governments on the recommendations of Justice Wadhwa Committee, senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for PUCL, told it that transition of the operation of PDS outlets from private control to the NGOs, self-help groups, cooperatives and the government would take six months to one year.

Finding the time frame a bit ambitious, Justice Thakur said: “If it happens in this time frame, we will be happy but it has to be done gradually.”

Gonsalves then said that it could be done on quarterly basis, but the court said there would be difficulty in choosing which set of outlets should be taken on the first quarter.

Holding that “attractive, convenient and suitable system should change over the existing set-up”, Justice Thakur said the existing privately owned operations are “very well entrenched system and very large number of people are dependent and (also) very large vote bank is there”.

He cautioned that if transition was not smooth, it would “affect the poor people more than the well-off.”

Asking Gonsalves to deliberate “how (changeover) will take place and the format of change”, Justice Thakur said the switchover system should be flexible and the states must be offered multiple options.

Justice Kalifulla felt that the alternate schemes should factor in the rehabilitation of people who would be rendered jobless after the change-over. They could be accommodated as salesmen, he said.

The court asked senior counsel Radhakrishnan appearing for private PDS operators of West Bengal to produce the financial statement of his clients as he contended that for the corrupt activities of few private owners, all should not be penalised.

Reminding Radhakrishnan that independent studies have confirmed the Planning Commission, World Bank and Justice Wadhwa Committee’s findings that there was pilferage of 60 percent of the foodgrain being given to fair price shops, Justice Thakur said: “It is the capacity of the system to be abused that is troubling you from transition. It is your capacity to misuse the system and misappropriate the foodgrain.”

“Some of the people are dying of starvation because they are not getting foodgrain from you”, Justice Thakur observed when Radhakrishnan offered a spirited defence of private fair price shop owners, saying that it would lead to unemployment and add to the suicides that are taking place in the rural areas.

The next hearing of the matter will take place after court reopens after summer break.

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