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Kerala High Court Stays Election Commission Order Which Halted Special Rice Distribution Through Ration Kits

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
29 March 2021 7:43 AM GMT
Kerala High Court Stays Election Commission Order Which Halted Special Rice Distribution Through Ration Kits
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The Kerala High Court on Monday stayed the direction issued by the State Election Commission which stopped special distribution of rice to non-priority ration card holders(blue and white cards). The High Court noted that the decision regarding the special distribution was taken on February 4 before the election notification, and that auctions for the rice from Food Corporation of India...

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The Kerala High Court on Monday stayed the direction issued by the State Election Commission which stopped special distribution of rice to non-priority ration card holders(blue and white cards).

The High Court noted that the decision regarding the special distribution was taken on February 4 before the election notification, and that auctions for the rice from Food Corporation of India have already been carried out for Rs 83.34 crores. Since the payments have to be made before March 30, 2021, it is not practical for the State Government to approach the Election Commission with a fresh proposal seeking sanction, the HC said in the interim order.

"In view of the fact that the proposal in item no.17 for implementation of a decision was taken as per Ext.P4 order as early as on04.02.2021, the said proposal cannot be one prohibited by model code of conduct...", the Court said in the order.

However, the Court added a caveat that the distribution should be strictly in accordance with the Model Code of Conduct without creating any impression that the welfare measure is taken by the party in power to influence the voters.

The Election Commission had halted the special rice distribution based on a complaint made by the opposition that it would amount to the violation of model code of conduct ahead of the assembly polls scheduled on April 6.

Challenging the Election Commissions' decision, the State of Kerala filed a writ petition in the High Court, which was heard by a single bench of Justice PV Asha today, after an urgent mentioning was made by Additional Advocate General Ranjith Thampan.

The Additional AG submitted that the special rice distribution was intended for the Easter-Vishu-Ramzan festive seasons, and the decision regarding this was taken on February 4, 2021, much before the election dates were announced by the Election Commission on February 26. He pointed out that similar special distribution through ration kits was done during the Onam festival in August last year too.

The AAG informed the bench that auction of lift rice from various depots of the Food Corporation of India(FCI) has already been conducted for Rs 83.34 lakhs for the special distribution drive.

"The model code of conduct does not apply to implementation of ongoing programmes, it is not as if the government took a decision after the election was announced. Nobody knew the election would be announced to be held on April 6, elections are usually in May!", the AAG said.

The AAG further said that the State's case is supported by precedents in of the High Court in the case KM Babu v Election Commission of India (2006) 4 KHC 364, in which a division bench had allowed the implementation of pay revisions, which was decided before the election notification.

The Election Commission's standing counsel, Advocate Deepu Lal Mohan, submitted that the decision was taken to ensure that the ruling party was not vitiating the level playing ground by making the special distribution in close proximity of the elections.

"The purpose of the model code of conduct is to ensure a level playing field for all the political parties and prevent an undue advantage for the party in power. Announcement of a distribution scheme provides an advantage to the party in power", the ECI counsel said.

Click here to read/download the order





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