Fix criteria for PDS monitoring panels, SC tells centre (Lead)

August 30th, 2012 - 9:47 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 30 (IANS) The Supreme Court Thursday asked the government to spell out the criteria for the composition of vigilance panels to monitor the public distribution system (PDS) instead of compelling the court to pass orders.

“Why don’t you provide for vigilance committees which in your wisdom is most effective, instead of the Supreme Court issuing directions?” said the apex court bench of Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla.

“You can’t so easily wash your hands of your responsibility,” said Justice Thakur during a hearing on a public interest litigation by rights group People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) on the working of the PDS.

“Can the government of India amend its order prescribing for the composition of vigilance committees?” the court asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) P.P. Malhotra.

“Why make the court encroach upon your territory?”

Cautioning the government, Justice Thakur observed: “We are very reluctant in doing things which you should do. Otherwise we will say government of India’s officers are too busy for other things, including sipping coffee, and are not bothered for PDS, thus, we had to step in.”

On the pitfall of statutory provisions being silent on prescribing criteria for filling up the vigilance committees, the court said: “If you don’t prescribe (the criteria), then the state governments appoint MLAs and his workers on the committee.”

Justice Thakur said: “Don’t let it (vigilance committees) be a playground for political bribery for vote and make it objective criterion.”

The central vigilance committee in its report to the apex court had said that the state-level vigilance committees were not functioning at all and those responsible for checking the malpractices in the working of the PDS were themselves corrupt officials.

The central committee, comprising Justice D.P. Wadhwa and N.C. Saxena, was set up July 12, 2006 by the apex court.

In the states, vigilance committees are at the level of district, block and the shop level.

Asking the ASG to take instructions from the government in this regard, the court said that after statutorily providing for the vigilance committees “you have delegated your powers (to the state governments to decide on their composition). There is no compulsion to delegate that power”.

Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for petitioner, told the court that based on Justice Wadhwa report on the working of the PDS, there were 28 points that needed the court’s intervention.

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