Madras HC orders notice on plea to quash GO proposing to send rice to Sri Lanka

A PIL petition has been filed in the Madras High Court to scrap the proposal to purchase 40,000 tonne rice to be sent to Sri Lanka

Chennai: Alleging Rs 54 crore estimated loss in the purchase of 40,000 tonne rice to be sent to Sri Lanka in lines with a Tamil Nadu government decision, a PIL petition has been filed in the Madras High Court to scrap the proposal and consequently direct the authorities concerned to take steps to purchase the rice through the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) in New Delhi.

When the public interest litigation petition, also praying for a direction to the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) to conduct an inquiry in to the matter, came up for hearing on Thursday, a vacation bench of Justices G R Swaminathan and Senthil Kumar Ramamurthy posted it after summer vacation, so as to enable the authorities concerned to file their counter-affidavits.

According to petitioner A Jaishankar of Tiruvarur, Chief Minister M K Stalin announced in the state Assembly on April 29 during that 40,000 tonne of rice will be provided to the Sri Lanka to help the citizens who are facing acute hardships due to economic crises in that country.

Pursuant to this, the Tamil Nadu Civil Supply Corporation on May 5 submitted a proposal to the Finance and Consumer and Co-operative departments to grant permission to purchase the rice. It was stated in the said proposal that the Corporation had conducted a meeting with various rice millers and they have agreed to supply rice at the rate of Rs 33 per kg, including all expenses except transportation cost.

After negotiations, the rice millers agreed to supply 40,000 tonne of any one of three varieties of par-boiled rice--Co-51, ADT-45 and Andhra Ponni at the rate of Rs 33.50 net per kg including transportation, loading, unloading, handling, toll charges, bag with printing and all other relevant expenditure upto delivery point at Chennai/Tuticorin Ports. The total cost was arrived at Rs 134 crore and the government on May 9 granted the financial sanction.

Petitioner contended that the authorities concerned had taken a hasty decision to purchase such a huge quantity of rice without approaching the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution and the FCI, from where the rice can be purchased at subsidised rate. The provisions of Tamil Nadu Transparency in Tenders Act were given a go-by. The way in which they had acted raised a lot of suspicion, he submitted.

Petitioner pointed out that the price of rice per quintal (100 kg) is Rs 2,000 in the open market sales scheme for 2022. If the authorities concerned had opted to purchase the rice under the said scheme, it would have brought down the expenditure from Rs 134 crore to just Rs 80 crore, resulting in saving about Rs 54 crore.

Following criticism in the social media, the government had issued a press release later, wherein it was stated that the central government was supplying rice only for the public distribution scheme (PDS) under subsidised rate of Rs 20 per kg and it cannot be purchased from them and sent to any other country. The State wanted to project as if the government had taken a decision to purchase high quality rice and it cannot be compared with the one supplied by the FCI under the PDS scheme, petitioner contended. The government indirectly stated that the PDS rice supplied by the FCI was low quality and hence, it decided to purchase on nomination basis. The government had also warned that if anyone raises the issue, he/she will face appropriate legal action.

The authorities concerned had completely failed to either enquire with the Union government or the FCI for supply of rice and there was no mention in the GO or in the press release that Centre had rejected their request. The State government had taken a 'hasty' decision without verifying this aspect and without analysing the other modes of purchase and thereby committed serious error, which would amount to Rs 54 crore loss to the exchequer, the petitioner contended.

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