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India will distribute stored grain to poor

The agriculture minister has promised to carry out the Supreme Court's order to solve massive grain wastage, despite earlier claims the task was not possible.

NEW DELHI // India's agriculture minister promised today that the government would carry out an order by the Supreme Court to distribute grain to the poor instead of letting it rot in warehouses. In early August the Supreme Court criticised the federal farmers' agency, the Food Corp of India, for failing to properly store India's massive grain stocks and told the government to distribute the food to the poor. "This government will honour the decision of the Supreme Court," Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told parliament after earlier saying the directive was "impossible to implement". The Supreme Court reiterated on Tuesday that its ruling had been "an order". It said it was "a crime to waste even a grain of food" as long as people were starving. A recent Asian Development Bank report calculated the number of poor people in India - those living on less than two dollars a day - stood at around 651 million. Malnutrition among under-fives stands at 43.5 percent -- worse than sub-Saharan Africa, according to government figures. The Supreme Court also said that the government must urgently build infrastructure for modern storage facilities across the country. The court order came after Indian media reports exposed massive wastage of government-bought grain across the country in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and other states. The Hindustan Times newspaper quoted an unidentified government source as saying about 10 million tonnes of grain -- enough to feed 118 million people for a year -- were at risk of rotting. In 2009, the amount of grain wasted in warehouses across the country totalled 16 million tonnes, according to Food Corp of India. Analysts say that foreign investment in the retail sector is needed to help modernise India's food supply chain and sharply reduce wastage. * Agence France-Presse

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