The Indian government has been challenged by the Supreme Court this week over the discrepancy between its well-stocked granaries and the plight facing millions of malnourished people, highlighted by recent reports that several people have starved to death in the poorer states of the country. 

The situation is now being discussed in parliament, but for a government that toyed with disposing of its 60m-tonne surplus of wheat and rice in the sea before deciding to sell it abroad, the entrance into the debate of the Supreme Court has been a high profile embarrassment.

Three judges from the Court spoke out against government policy during a hearing of a petition filed against the state by a voluntary organisation called the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. Asked to rule whether “people who are starving and who are too poor to buy foodgrains ought to be given foodgrains free of cost by the state from the surplus stock…particularly when it is reported that a large part of it is lying unused and rotten”, the judges commented: “Even if the foodgrains have to be given free it should be done, as no person should be deprived of food merely because he has no money.”

The court hearing has been adjourned until 3 September.