VIJAYAWADA: The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Sunday directed the State government to explain the importance of distribution of PDS rice at the doorstep of ration card holders to the State Election Commission (SEC) within two days. The SEC was directed to decide on the door delivery of ration to beneficiaries within five days of receiving the representation from the State government. The final decision on implementation of the scheme in rural areas will be taken by the SEC in view of panchayat polls, it said.
Days after the SEC asked the government not to go ahead with the launch of the door delivery scheme on February 1, the government filed a house motion petition in the High Court seeking a direction to the SEC to allow the distribution of PDS rice at the doorstep of ration card holders as scheduled.
Hearing the petition at his residence, Justice Joymalya Bagchi directed the Chief Secretary and other officials to explain the importance of the scheme to the SEC. Making it clear that the SEC will have the final say on the matter, Justice Bagchi said the SEC should keep in mind before taking a decision that the scheme is not being implemented by a political party.
No one can find fault with the SEC for taking a decision to stop implementation of the scheme as per the Model Code of Conduct as it has the responsibility to conduct elections in a free and fair manner. At the same time, there is no doubt that the scheme is meant to implement the right to nutritious food as per the Constitution. Hence, the SEC should take an appropriate decision on the matter, Justice Bagchi said.
Justice Bagchi observed that the decision of stopping the supply of ration at the doorstep of beneficiaries cannot be deemed to have been taken with an ulterior motive and the SEC gone overboard. At the same time, one cannot fault the government’s intentions. “Once the election notification is issued, the SEC has the final say on what schemes to be continued and what new schemes should be stopped. However, before stopping the implementation of any scheme, the SEC has to consider the nature of it, the targeted group and the public benefit in continuation of the scheme,” he said.
In his orders, Justice Bagchi also stated that the SEC should think of implementing the scheme through officials keeping the public interest in mind if it wants to ensure that no political leader gains in the process.Presenting his argument, Advocate General S Sriram stated that the scheme is not a new one as it was announced in the State Legislative Assembly in July 2019 itself. He argued that poor people will suffer if the implementation of the scheme was not allowed in view of the Model Code of Conduct. When the panchayat elections are not contested on political basis, it is unfortunate that the SEC raised the issue of party colours. No election code dictates that a particular scheme should be stopped, he said.
Intervening, Justice Bagchi said the SEC’s objection seems to be not on implementation of the scheme, but on the party colours on vehicles transporting ration to the doorstep of card holders. As the SEC has sought explanation from the Chief Secretary in this regard, it appears the commission has not taken any final decision in this regard, he observed.
Appearing for the SEC, senior advocate N Ashwini Kumar said there is no objection to distribution of PDS rice at the doorstep of people using mobile dispensing units. However, complaints were made against the party colours on the mobile dispensing units. Hence, the implementation of the door delivery of ration scheme should be put on hold till a decision is taken on the complaints against party colours on MDUs, he said.
Door delivery of rice in urban areas from today
The door delivery of rice to card holders through mobile dispensing units will begin in urban areas on Monday. The SEC had earlier directed the State government not to go ahead with the implementation of the scheme in rural areas as the Model Code of Conduct for panchayat elections is in force. Civil Supplies Minister Kodali Nani said the door delivery of rice in urban areas will commence as scheduled
SEC posts new collectors for Guntur, Chittoor
Observing that the resending the names of the officers for posting as collectors of Guntur and Chittoor districts without making any modifications as sought by the SEC as an indication of a dismissive attitude adopted by the government towards the commission, SEC N Ramesh Kumar posted P Basant Kumar and M Hari Narayan as new Collectors of the two districts