Rs 23000cr food bill hint

New Delhi, Feb. 8: The Centre today told the Supreme Court the food security bill costing Rs 23,000 crore is expected to be passed in the budget session, but the judges sought interim measures till the legislation became law.

The "additional financial implication on the central government of approximately Rs 23,000 crore" will be in the form of food subsidy, attorney-general G.E. Vahanvati told a bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and Ibrahim Khalifullah on behalf of the Centre.

The court was hearing a PIL that alleged pilferage under the existing public distribution system (PDS) and sought court-directed remedial measures.

Vahanvati said the exact amount of subsidy would depend on the final shape of the bill approved by Parliament. "We expect the bill to be taken up and passed during the budget session."

The judges then asked whether "interim measures" could be adopted through executive actions to implement provisions of the bill till it was passed.

Vahanvati replied that under the Constitution, financial allocations can be made and sanction for the expenditure to implement the provisions of the bill given only after the legislation is passed.

However, the bench stressed the need for an arrangement "till the bill is passed" and said there should not be any "vacuum". "So you should come out with some administrative mechanism. Private fair price shops can be replaced with state government-owned shops or women self-help groups."

"There is a need to switch from the private PDS shops as there has been large-scale pilferage and the food grains are not reaching the real beneficiaries," the court added.

The proposed law, the National Food Security Bill (NFSB), seeks to introduce monthly entitlements of grain for individuals instead of families as is the case now.

"As the NFSB is under consideration of Parliament, latest population figures available would be considered for making allocation of food grains once the proposed law is enacted. Till that time, it would be appropriate for the department to continue the present system of allocations and the PDS," the Centre said in its affidavit filed through Vahanvati.

The attorney-general told the court the parliamentary committee had given its final report on the bill and that it would be taken up during Parliament's budget session that kicks off on February 21.

The bench then posted the matter for further hearing on March 4.

The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), which has filed the PIL, alleged large-scale irregularities in the PDS and urged the court to pass directions to streamline the system.

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