Andhra local body polls: Supreme Court dismisses govt plea against SEC decision

Andhra Pradesh State Election commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar releasing Gram Panchayat election notification, in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh on January 23, 2021.   | Photo Credit: V. Raju

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a plea by the Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy government against the Andhra State Election Commission’s decision to conduct local body elections amid COVID-19 vaccination drive, saying “elections have been held in this country in far more difficult times”.

The court said the State government’s reluctance to conduct the elections and the wording of its appeal suggested an “ego battle” between the government and State Election Commissioner N. Ramesh Kumar.

“Ego problem between two authorities is leading to lawlessness. We cannot allow lawlessness. How can resolutions be passed against the N Ramesh Kumar”" Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, heading the Bench, asked.

The court said it was “highly deplorable” to see State employees’ federations issuing resolutions against the Election Commissioner.

“The purpose of the State Election Commission [SEC] is to take over elections... Every time this process is started, some reason is being given to postpone the elections... The SEC is alive to the fact of the vaccination drive, the court should not take over such functions from the Election Commission. This is against the constitutional scheme. There is only a very limited scope of judicial review here,” Justice Kaul, flanked by Justice Hrishikesh Roy on the Bench, told Andhra’s lawyers, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi and Mahfooz A. Nazki.

Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar and K. Parameshwar appeared for the SEC.

Kerala polls

An intervenor argued how local body elections recently conducted in Kerala had led to a spike in infection.

“Nobody can say the spike happened because of this or that... Very difficult to blame or judge anyone. States have conducted elections during COVID-19. Even Kerala did and there is a spike now, but we can’t say polls were the reason... We will not meddle in the affairs of the SEC,” Justice Kaul replied.

The Bench called interventions “wholly uncalled for”.

Mr. Rohatgi referred to how Goa recently deferred its local body elections.

He said 94,000 police personnel were required for the vaccination drive and to guard the vaccines stored in various places in Andhra. He said the vaccination of front line health workers would be over by February-end. The elections could be held in March.

Mr. Rohatgi said the State was only asking for the deferment of the elections to ensure the safe conduct of the vaccination drive. “The SEC should have been alive to the fact of the vaccination drive.”

Justice Kaul said, “Whatever the reason, this [conducting elections] is a political process and you are not allowing it to be conducted”.

Mr. Rohatgi responded, “But the State is also duty-bound to conduct the vaccination drive. That is a national requirement and the most important one”.

The State government had challenged a Division Bench order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, on January 21, allowing the SEC to conduct local body elections amid the COVID-19 vaccination drive.

A Single Judge Bench of the High Court had, on January 11, set aside the election process.

“The entire police force of the State is scheduled to be vaccinated with effect from first week of February. This is when the elections are scheduled. In effect, the police will be required to (i) ensure that the entire police force is vaccinated; (ii) ensure that the Elections are conducted (ii) ensure storage and transport of the vaccine,” the State’s petition in the apex court said.

‘Health experts not consulted’

Besides, it said the SEC had not consulted any health experts before giving the go-ahead for the polls. It

submitted that even the mandate of the High Court to hold an effective consultation with the State was ignored. It even said it was in an “unfortunate position” to apprise the apex court that the “only consideration that appears to have weighed with the Respondent No.2 [Kumar] to declare elections is that he is retiring in March, 2021 and wishes to conduct the election before that”.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 7:19:55 AM |

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