The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the Centre for limiting the number of below poverty line (PDS) people in a state to 36 per cent of its population as per the Planning Commission's recommendations.
Seeking the government's rationale to cap the number of BPL card holders in the states, a bench of justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma said, "We fail to understand the rationale and justification for the cap fixed by the Planning Commission."
It asked Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran, who appeared for the Centre, to "respond to the court on the rationality and justification of putting a cap."
The bench also expressed concern over large-scale pilferage from the Public Distribution System, pointed out by the Wadhwa Committee, which examined the issue, and said the computerisation of the entire system is urgently needed.
"Computerisation has to be put in place as soon as possible. Looking at the grave urgency of the matter, we want the ASG to take instruction for a high-powered committee which can take assistance of other organisations concerned to ensure that the computerisation is carried expeditiously," the bench said.
During the hearing, the court also remarked that going by the current pace of computerisation, it will not be completed even in ten years.
"If you want to do it, then do it, otherwise we would pass orders. It cannot go on for years. We want to conclude it," the bench said.
On this, the ASG assured the court that he would take up the matter with authorities concerned.
The bench also expressed its concern over the figures given by the Centre and respective states over the number of people falling in BPL categories.
"The figures given by the Centre are in great contrast with the figures given by the states," the bench said, indicating that there are large number of people who are entitled for BPL status but are not getting the benefit.
It also mentioned an affidavit filed by the Uttar Pradesh government which said as per the Centre's standard, it has fixed the maximum number of BPL ration card holders at 106.7 lakh, although the number of BPL families is much higher in the state and eligible BPL card holders are not getting the benefits.
The bench was hearing public interest litigation by Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties, complaining about massive irregularities and corruption in the country's PDS mechanism and wastage of huge quantities of grain due to poor storage conditions.
The bench also flayed the government for following the 2004 criterion for identifying BPL families.
The 2004 criterion stipulated that those with daily earning of less than Rs 12 in rural area and Rs 17 in urban areas would fall in the BPL category.
"Do you think that in 2011, Rs 17 and Rs 12 are a realistic figure seeing the current rate of inflation? Even the government of India has increased the salaries of its employees twice in a year. How can it be realistic?" the bench said, adjourning the matter till April 4.
During last hearing on March 16, the bench had asked the Centre as to why the tax payers' money should be used for subsidising food grains under the public distribution system (PDS) for those who are above the poverty line.
"We don't understand the logic as to why a person, let us say earning an annual income of Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million), should be (given) subsidy (by using) the tax payers' money for distribution of the grains.
"We can understand the necessity of subsidising those who belong to the AAY (Antodaya Anna Yojana) and BPL families should be given the benefits, but why should others be given the benefit from the limited resources?" the bench had asked.
It had also asked the government to explain the steps taken by it for computerisation of the PDS delivery mechanism to ensure fool-proof implementation of the welfare measure.