Friday, September 3, 2010


It it not a shame for a democratic country like India to be "directed" by the highest judicial body to save the millions of tons of grains under its custody, to be distributed free of cost to poor people? Adding to the ignominy of such a situation is the prevarication of the food minister in interpreting the court order as a suggestion rather than a judicial directive and got a rap on his knuckle from very same court for misinterpreting its order. It is unfortunate that the GOI was found shirking its responsibility of ensuring food security in the country. A serious question that deserves an assertive answer is whether the claim regarding the spoilage of food grains to the extent mentioned in the court is really true. Does the GOI, with its vast "babudom' for verifying the actual situation on the ground, concur with the court's observation? Why should the country need a minister for food if courts have to do the job? Looking at the commotion that prevailed in the Parliament after the court pronouncement, a honest and proud citizen of the country cannot but hang his head in shame for the behavior of the elected representatives of this democratic institution.

"The issue of rotting food grains and the Supreme Court order directing the government to distribute them among the hungry today led to uproar in the Lok Sabha prompting two adjournments. Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj raised the issue hours after the Supreme Court took exception to Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's statement that its directive on free distribution of food grains to the poor instead of allowing them to rot in godowns was a suggestion which could not be implemented. Ms. Swaraj made the statement in the midst of a discussion on the Indian Medicine Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2010, prompting an impromptu debate on the matter and demands for presence of Mr. Pawar in the House. Mr. Pawar, who later came to the House, said government would honour the decision of the Supreme Court, a copy of which has not reached him. Amid opposition uproar over rotting food grains, she raised the issue after a calling attention motion moved by Harsimrat Kaur(Akali Dal) over rejection of 40 lakh tonnes of rice variety PAU-201 by the Food Safety Standards Authority. Ms. Kaur's calling attention earlier had generated heat in the House with Akali Dal members twice trooping into the Well dissatisfied over Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's reply that a report of the expert committee, including those from the National Institute of Nutrition, on PAU-201 rice variety is likely to be submitted by the second week of September. The Food Safety Standards Authority of India has rejected it citing provisions of the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) and the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. Ms. Kaur made a strong plea to allow the 40 lakh tonnes rice to be distributed for human consumption contending that the analysis reports of 75 samples reveal that only nine of them were not found to be conforming to the standards of rice as prescribed under the PFA rules, a stand accepted by Azad".

How can a honorable member question the decision of the safety authorities that food grains tested by its officials were not conforming to the standards set by the parliament under the PFA Act of 1956? Who will take the responsibility if freely distributed grains affect the health of the recipients adversely? It would have been better if the appellate authorities were asked to recheck the quality on an emergency basis and go by its decision. Probably there could be marginal deficiency like increased moisture or higher refractions or some minor short comings which can be rectified easily. Even constituting an expert committee cannot justify by-passing the existing regulations. But short circuiting the established safety regulations for even temporary advantage is fraught with serious consequences for the credibility of the system in the long run. Ever since the issue was pitchforked into national and international attention, various players in this drama did not acquit themselves creditably. A sorry situation indeed!


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