The Madras High Court on Wednesday ordered a stay on a Tamil Nadu government scheme allowing Rs 1,000 in cash to be distributed as a gift for Pongal festival to all ration card holders in the state, PTI reported. The court also restrained the government from giving money to people who are not below the poverty line.

The scheme, launched earlier this month, was to cost the government Rs 258 crore. Gift hampers were also to be made available in ration shops ahead of Pongal, which will be celebrated on January 15. The court was hearing a petition filed by activist J Daniel Jesudass challenging the government’s scheme to distribute money irrespective of their financial statuses.

“How can you give Rs 1,000 to all ration card holders and call it a policy decision?” the bench asked. The court observed that the money belonged to the state government and not the ruling party All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

“One can understand if Pongal gifts are given to people below poverty line, and it’s not wrong... But what’s the intention behind giving away Rs 1,000 to all ration card holders? Already reeling under big financial burden, it will only increase the burden on the state government,” said the High Court.

The bench asked why the judges of the High Court and the advocate general of Tamil Nadu would require a gift from the government. “Why are you splurging government money in the name of Pongal? If political parties give away their money, we will not raise these questions,” it said.

The bench noted that the Tamil Nadu government could instead use the money towards relief measures in parts of the state that were affected by Cyclone Gaja in November last year.