New Delhi, Sept. 4: The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to explain its failure to implement the previous government's flagship food security programme, aimed at providing cheap grains to two-thirds of the population with a special focus on children and pregnant and lactating women.
The scheme, estimated to cost Rs 1.25 lakh crore a year, was launched in 2013 and was to come into force from July last year. But the Narendra Modi government has so far postponed its implementation three times.
According to the government, the states and Union territories are not yet ready with the data that will determine who meets the scheme's eligibility criteria and who doesn't.
In March, the Centre extended the deadline for implementing the scheme by another eight months.
Today, the bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and U.U. Lalit gave the Centre four weeks to explain the delay. The court was hearing a public interest plea moved by the People's Union for Civil Liberties.
Senior counsel Colin Gonzalves and counsel Divya Jyoti, appearing for the petitioner, told the court that the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013, was to begin by July 5 last year.
The NGO has challenged validity of the three administrative orders deferring the scheme's implementation --- passed on June 30 and October 14 last year and on March 24 this year --- as violating Section 10 of the food security act.
This section gives the states a period not exceeding 365 days to identify the eligible households --- a deadline that expired in July last year.
The act is meant to tackle the problem of malnutrition and hunger in the country. The subsidised food grains are to be distributed through the targeted public distribution system, covering up to 75 per cent of the rural population and up to half the urban population.
Rice, wheat and coarse grains are to be available under the scheme at Rs 3, Rs 2 and Re 1 per kilogram, respectively. Special focus has been laid on nutritional support to children up to 14 years as well as pregnant women and lactating mothers. The scheme stipulates a maternity benefit of at least Rs 6,000.
Section 3(1) of the act entitles "every person belonging to priority households" to 5kg of subsidised food grains per month. The poorest households, covered by the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, are entitled to 35kg food grains per month.