Monday, March 21, 2011

Kerala HC quashes EC order banning subsidised rice scheme

Kochi: A Kerala High Court division bench on Monday quashed the Election Commission's to stop selection of new beneficiaries for thestate government's extended rice-at-Rs 2 per kg scheme.
The bench comprising Chief Justice J Chelameswar and Justice Antony Dominique issued the order while considering a writ petition filed by Rajaji Mathew Thomas, an LDF MLA and leader of the CPI. The division bench pointed out that the scheme benefited the society as a whole and was not meant to placate a particular section. The Election Commission (EC) did not have the powers to block such schemes, the court said. In his petition, Rajaji had said that the government extended an existing scheme to cover a wider section of the people. This was announced in the state budget presented in the assembly on February 11, much before the announcement of election on March 1. The state cabinet had given its nod to the scheme on February 23 and the government order was issued on February 25.
Earlier, the scheme — 25 kg rice per month at Rs 2 per kg — was meant for BPL families. In this year's state budget, the government extended the scheme to all ration card holders with monthly income below Rs 25,000. As a result, around 40 lakh families would benefit from the scheme.
EC, however, had stopped the selection of fresh beneficiaries after the model code of conduct came into force on March 1. State chief electoral officer (CEO) Nalini Netto had issued the orders. The EC, too, had turned down the state government's appeal against the CEO’s order. The EC had clarified that it had not banned the scheme, but only directed the state government to suspend the selection of fresh beneficiaries.
After the court order, Rajaji said, “This is a pro-people verdict. The Election Commission had taken an anti-people stand. Election officers have now lost the moral authority to hold office and should step down. Congress leaders who had complained to the Election Commission against the scheme should quit the electoral battlefield.”
Kerala’s ruling combine had announced the scheme in the last year of its rule. Chief Minister and food minister had written to the EC to lift the ban against the scheme. EC sources said they will study the judgement and then decide whether to appeal against it.

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