The Kerala High Court on Monday stayed an order of the State Election Commission prohibiting the state government from distributing rice to non-priority cardholders, reported Bar and Bench. The poll panel’s order was taken on the basis of the model code of conduct imposed in the state in view of the Assembly elections on April 6.

While staying the EC’s order, a bench of Justice PV Asha said that there should be no impression that the ruling Left Democratic Front government was undertaking the scheme in order to influence the electorate in its favour.

The Pinarayi Vijayan-led government had issued an order on February 4 announcing the distribution of 10 kg special rice above the regular ration limit to blue and white cardholders at Rs 15.

Last week, the Election Commission passed the order to stop the distribution of rice based on a complaint made by Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, reported The Hindu. Chennithala, a Congress leader, had alleged that the distribution of subsidised rice and food was in violation of the model code of conduct. After the poll panel halted the scheme, the Kerala government approached the High Court.

At the hearing on Monday, Additional Advocate General Ranjith Thampan, appearing for the state government, told the High Court that the decision to distribute rice was taken based on the state Finance Minister Thomas Issac’s Budget speech in January. “In January 2021, nobody knew election will be on April 6,” Thampan said. “Normally elections are in May. No arbitrariness can be attributed to the government order of February 4.”

The additional advocate general submitted that the distribution is a welfare measure and was issued keeping in mind the upcoming festivals of Easter, Vishu and Ramzan.

Advocate Deepu Lal Mohan, representing the Election Commission, told the bench that the decision to halt the distribution was taken to ensure that the ruling party was not “vitiating the level playing ground” by making the special distribution, reported Live Law.

“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,” Mohan said. “Announcement of a distribution scheme provides an advantage to the party in power.”

The poll panel’s counsel also raised questions on the state government’s decision to revive a scheme that was last employed in August. “The rice distribution was due to Covid-19,” Mohan said. “It was last done in August. Now on the eve of elections, they have decided to re-continue. A scheme which was discontinued in August, restarting it now will lead to complaints.”