Monday, May 23rd, 2022 08:07:33

is Election Commission of India Singularly Responsible For Covid 2.0?

By Sanjeev Sirohi
Updated: May 15, 2021 9:09 am

The Madras High Court has certainly used very strong words to express its seething resentment against the shoddy manner in which the Election Commission of India allowed political rallies during the COVID-19 pandemic. One rarely hears what we heard now the Chief Justice led Bench of the Madras High Court saying that, “Your officers should be booked on murder charges probably. Your institution is singularly responsible for the spread of COVID-19.”

In a hard hitting judgment and without sparing any punches, the Madras High Court has most recently on April 26, 2021 in W.P. No. 10441 of 2021 pulled up the Election Commission of India for allowing the political rallies during the pandemic and for not enforcing the COVID protocols during campaigns which certainly cannot be condoned and was totally uncalled for. The Madras High Court thus came down heavily on the Election Commission of India for permitting the holding of political rallies during the COVID-19 pandemic which is certainly unacceptable also as we are seeing how so many people more than 500 are dying in one state alone. A visibly agitated and upset Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee of Madras High Court then told the Election Commission’s counsel that, “Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of COVID-19.” He further also went ahead to the extent of orally saying that, “Your officers should be booked on murder charges probably.”

To start with, this brief, balanced and blunt judgment authored by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthil Kumar Ramamoorthy of Madras High Court sets the ball rolling by first and foremost pointing out in para 1 that, “Mr.V. Jayaprakash Narayanan, State Government Pleader, takes notice for the first respondent. Mr. Niranjan Rajagopalan takes notice for the Election Commission.”

While mentioning about what the petition pertains to, the Bench then puts forth in para 2 that, “The petition pertains to the counting of votes at a solitary assembly constituency, but the larger picture cannot be missed.”

While then elaborating on the apprehensions of the petitioner, the Bench then observes in para 3 that, “The petitioner apprehends that at assembly constituency No.135 in Karur, special measures have to be taken at the time of counting to maintain Covid protocol since 77 candidates are in the fray and even though an additional hall has been arranged by the Election Commission for the purpose of counting, that may not suffice to accommodate the counting personnel and the agents of 77 candidates.”

Frankly speaking, the Bench then concedes in para 4 that, “In the suo motu proceedings pertaining to the Covid situation initiated by this Court on April 22, 2021, among the directions issued to the State, some were for appropriate measures to be put in place in consultation with the Election Commission for counting day on May 2, 2021. Even though the polling was by and large peaceful in this State on April 6, 2021, it must be observed that the Election Commission could not ensure that political parties adhered to the Covid protocol at the time of election campaigns and rallies. Despite repeated orders of this Court, going on like a broken record at the foot of almost every order on an election petition, that Covid protocol ought to be maintained during the campaign time, the significance of adhering to such protocol may have been lost on the Election Commission, going by the silence on the part of the Election Commission as campaigning and rallies were conducted without distancing norms being maintained and in wanton disregard of the other requirements of the protocol.”

Without mincing any words, the Bench then unequivocally and most commendably points out in para 5 while according top priority to citizen’s life and health  that, “In view of the rapid surge in the number of cases on a daily basis, albeit this State not yet being as badly affected as some other States, the measures to be adopted at the time of the counting of votes on May 2, 2021, which is about a week away, should already have been planned in the light of the grim situation now prevailing. At no cost should the counting result in being a catalyst for a further surge, politics or no politics, and whether the counting takes place in a staggered manner or is deferred. Public health is of paramount importance and it is distressing that Constitutional authorities have to be reminded in such regard. It is only when the citizen survives that he enjoys the other rights that this democratic republic guarantees unto him. The situation is now one of survival and protection and, everything else comes thereafter.”

No doubt, what the Madras High Court has said is quite ostensible also. The top most priority now of all of us including the Election Commission of India, the Centre and also the State Governments should be the saving of invaluable lives and definitely not conducting of elections which is not an essential feature in a person’s life and can be conducted later also once the pandemic is on recession. One fails to understand that what is the point of conducting election rallies at a point when the very survival of every citizen of India is in threat? This is what must be honestly introspected upon!

While referring to a specific constituency, the Bench then also makes it a point to mention in para 6 that, “As far as the Karur constituency is concerned, it is submitted on behalf of the Election Commission that two halls, one measuring about 3500 sq.ft and the other measuring in excess of 4000 sq.ft, have been arranged. Upon the Court’s query whether such spaces would be adequate if most of the 77 candidates were to engage agents at the time of counting, the Election Commission claims that all but two of the independent candidates have indicated that they would not engage any agents at the time of counting and only seven out of nine major political parties have confirmed in writing that they would be appointing agents.”

While elaborating further, the Bench then specifies in para 7 that, “In such a scenario, the Election Commission does not expect that Covid protocol and appropriate measures cannot be taken if counting is conducted at the two designated halls. The Election Commission says that six additional counting tables have been organized so that distancing norms can be maintained.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then also makes it clear in para 8 without mincing any words that, “Similar appropriate measures have to be adopted at every counting centre and it is only upon maintaining regular sanitization, proper hygienic conditions, mandatory wearing of mask and adherence to the distance norms, should any counting begin or be continued. The State Health Secretary and the Director of Public Health should be consulted by the Election Commission and the Chief Electoral Officer responsible in the State, to put appropriate measures in place immediately.”

What’s more, the Bench then further states in para 9 that, “The matter will appear on April 30, 2021 to review the situation when a complete picture as to adequate steps having been taken at all counting centres should be indicated by the Election Commission.”

As it turned out, the Bench then elucidates in para 10 stating that, “The petitioner says that since Karur is a sensitive constituency, additional security measures should be put in place. The Returning Officer, in consultation with the Chief Electoral Officer in the State, will ensure that appropriate security measures are put in place and, if there is any apprehension of trouble or mischief, the State may be approached in this regard.”

Finally, the Bench then holds in the last para 11 that, “List on April 30, 2021.”

No doubt, we have to keep our fingers crossed till the case is decided finally. But the Madras High Court has certainly used very strong words to express its seething resentment against the shoddy manner in which the Election Commission of India allowed political rallies during the COVID-19 pandemic. One rarely hears what we heard now the Chief Justice led Bench of the Madras High Court saying that, “Your officers should be booked on murder charges probably. Your institution is singularly responsible for the spread of COVID-19.” It is high time and the Election Commission of India must also now take the rap from the Madras High Court most seriously and take care in future never to repeat what it has done now! It must adhere without fail to what has been laid down by the Madras High Court in this leading case. There can certainly be just no denying or disputing it!

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