Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday gently told the Supreme Court, which recently directed the government to distribute foodgrains free to the poor, not to get into the "realm of policy formulation".
How can foodgrains be distributed free to an estimated 37 per cent of the population which lives below the poverty line, Singh asserted during an interaction with editors at his residence.
It was not possible to give free foodgrains to all the poor, he said while answering a question on the order of the apex court which had directed Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar to distribute foodgrains to the poor instead of allowing them to rot.
The prime minister said he had not seen the final judgment of the court but he respected the "sentiments" behind the decision that a way should be found to ensure that at a time when foodgrains are rotting the needs of the people should be met.
"I do recognise that food should be available to the people below poverty line at concessional prices. We have not allowed any increase in the issue price of foodgrains to people below poverty line since 2004," he said.
To the extent possible, the government had taken adequate steps in this direction while noting the apex court's concern that food should be available to the poor at affordable prices, he said.
At the same time making food available free would destroy incentives to farmers to produce more. If there was no food available there would be nothing to distribute, he said.