Apex court upholds poll panel stay on Kerala’s rice scheme

March 30th, 2011 - 8:35 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) In a setback to Kerala’s ruling Left Democratic Front, the Supreme Court Wednesday upheld the Election Commission’s order directing the state government to defer its decision to extend a scheme for providing rice at Rs.2 per kg to all ration card holders that was announced on the eve of the assembly elections.

The court wondered why the scheme was extended just before the April 13 election to the state assembly, saying: “It was a big political issue.”

“The action taken by the Election Commission to defer the extension of the scheme to other sections is neither arbitrary nor meant to deny the extension of benefits to other sections of the people,” said an apex court bench of Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice Cyriac Joseph.

The court said that extending Rs.2 per kg rice scheme to all ration card holders just before announcement of elections disturbed the level playing field for other political parties.

When one of the respondents said the announcement for extending the scheme to all ration card holders was made the vote on account for 2011-12 taken in February, the court asked: “Why did you extend the scheme just before the election?”

When the court was told that this was not a political issue, the court retorted: “It is a big political issue.”

The court’s direction came in the wake of the Election Commission of India petition challenging a Kerala High Court judgment setting aside the panel’s communication restraining the Kerala government from going ahead with extending the scheme.

The high court had held that the Election Commission’s direction to the Kerala government blocking the scheme was “wholly arbitrary” and totally unconnected to its objection of ensuring a level playing field during the elections.

Earlier, appearing for the Election Commission, senior counsel Ashok Desai told the court the extension of the rice at Rs.2 per kg scheme on the eve of the election was in breach of the Model Code of Conduct.

Appearing for the respondent, senior counsel Nageshwar Rao said the poll panel could not direct the sttate government to defer the scheme as it was announced before the elections were announced and the model code coming into force.

The implementation of the scheme was announced by the Kerala government Feb 25 and the EC by its order of March 7 directed its deferment till the elections were over. The scheme was to additionally benefit nearly 40 lakh families.

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