New Delhi: If Sharad Pawar were confused earlier about what the Supreme Court wants when it comes to food grain, there's no room for confusion now. Making it clear who's calling the shots, the Supreme Court told the Additional Solicitor General, "Tell your minister that free food distribution is our order - not a suggestion - by us."
Earlier this month, aggravated by reports - including several on NDTV -that showed food grain rotting because warehouses aren't big enough or plenty enough for storage - the Supreme Court had asked Pawar to give away grain to poor families instead of wasting it.
Pawar's response, at the time, was casual. "It is not possible to distribute grains for free, the Supreme Court hasn't said this," he remarked.
One NDTV report showed dogs eating grain in UP, where poverty and malnourishment are rampant. Another showed sacks of wheat in Punjab rotting away outside warehouses. A third caught officials trying to burn grain because they hadn't been able to distribute it to families entitled to free rations.
Within hours of the Supreme Court's stern warning on Tuesday, both Opposition parties and allies of the government trained their guns on Pawar. "We want the Agriculture Minister to give us an assurance that the foodgrains would be distributed among the poor. The government should give us a plan to do it within a week," said the BJP's Sushma Swaraj. Lalu Prasad asked the government to send the rotting foodgrains to drought-affected Bihar. "We will give it to you to distribute," was the sarcastic response of the Congress' Pawan Kumar Bansal.
After noisy discussions in the Lok Sabha, Pawar responded by saying "I welcome the suggestions given by the leaders of the House. But without any concrete orders, it will be tough for me to take any action."