| A police jeep set ablaze outside a ration shop in Bengal’s Birbhum district. File picture
New Delhi, Nov. 6: A Supreme Court panel has called for abolition of ration to those above the poverty line at a time Bengal is blaming its food riots on central cuts in supplies for this section.
The above-poverty-line (APL) category is the biggest leak on the public distribution system (PDS) because most of these card holders don’t buy their ration, leaving the grains to be sold in the black market, a Supreme Court-appointed committee has said.
So, this category should be kept out of the ration system, the Justice Wadhwa panel has suggested, and PDS supplies “restricted to the poor below the poverty line (BPL) and the poorest of the poor, i.e. the Antyodaya Anna Yojana category”.
“It is needless to say that it is this (BPL) category of persons who need food security,” the panel said.
Sources said the Centre was willing to implement the report, handed in last month, although it was yet to send a formal reply to the apex court.
Justice Wadhwa, asked to look at ways of improving “targeted PDS” for the poor, said the APL category’s existence diluted the concept “targeted”. It made the system virtually universal, weakening its supposed focus on the poor.
Currently, the APL category has no upper income limit, which means even the affluent are entitled to subsidised grains — which is one reason so many don’t bother to pick up their allotment. The panel said that if the category cannot be abolished, an upper income limit of Rs 1 lakh a year should be fixed to reduce the number of card holders.
It suggested that the upper income limit for the BPL category be raised from the current Rs 24,200 a year to Rs 49,284.
The panel also cited the racket of APL ration cards — often used as proof of identity, residence and voting rights — being issued illegally. “APL is the most sought-after category and the biggest leakage in the system… as the beneficiaries do not avail (themselves) of the PDS facility, by and large,” Justice Wadhwa said.
The committee, whose suggestions apply to the whole country although it specifically studied Delhi’s PDS, said the system was “inefficient and corrupt” and asked for a nation-wide revamp.
“The most effective way to deal with this… all-pervading corruption is to introduce a completely automated system based on information technology with minimal or no human intervention,” it said.
“The central government gives a whopping sum of Rs 28,000 crore to subsidise food for the poor but till the recommendations are put in place, the poor will go on suffering at the hands of corrupt officials, dishonest fair-price shop owners, treacherous transporters and possibly, to a large extent, unscrupulous millers as well.”
Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had recently written to the Centre that its cuts in allocation for the APL category from April had disrupted the state’s PDS, leading to food riots. He had asked the Centre to increase allocation to the state.