The Bombay High Court has said that the matter of aid to farmers affected by the unseasonal rain and hailstorm in many parts of Maharashtra was a serious issue and must be looked into promptly.
Chief justice Mohit Shah said this on Thursday while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by two agriculturists seeking financial assistance for farmers to the tune of Rs40,000 crore.
The petitioners, Gorakh Gadge, 35, from Solapur and Vithrao Pawar, 49, from Pune moved the court through advocate Ashish Gaikwad, seeking a direction to the state and the Centre to immediately disburse financial aid to the farmers affected, as the election code was not an obstacle in the event of such a natural calamity.
Additional government pleader Milind More informed the court that the state had announced a relief package of Rs4,000 crore and exemption for farmers from payment of electricity bills for six months. Additional solicitor general Kevic Setalvad, on behalf of the Union government, sought two weeks to file a reply.
However, the advocate for the petitioners pointed out that the relief package was sent to the state election commission for its approval and that this would take some time. "The government needs to take immediate steps," Gaikwad said.
The PIL states that clause 3 of the model code of conduct made it clear that the government may provide assistance, financial help to persons who may be affected by natural calamities like flood and drought.
So this could be done despite the code.
The counsel for the state election commission was not present. The court asked the petitioners to serve fresh notice to the commission and scheduled the hearing for Friday.
The PIL stated that an area of 17.69 lakh hectares was affected across 28 districts, resulting in damage to crops amounting to a loss of an estimated Rs42,000 crore.
The PIL has also sought exemption for farmers from payment of revenue, taxes and repayment of loan.