The Madhya Pradesh High Court (Gwalior Bench) on Saturday (03rd October), in the public interest, passed some interim orders to prevent the Political Congregation in the State (specifically in the 9 districts falling within the territorial jurisdiction of the Bench).
The Bench of Justices Sheel Nagu and Rajeev Kumar Shrivastava issued interim orders, taking into account the practical problem being faced by the law enforcing personnel in implementing COVID-19 protocol and also looking to the various instances brought on record of widespread violation of Covid-19 protocol predominantly caused by congregations of a large number of persons for and on behalf of political leaders.
It may be noted that on 18th September, the Madhya Pradesh High Court had observed that "law, whether statutory or in the shape of the executive instructions deserves respect & obedience, as much from a common man as from a leader, a political functionary and even the head of State."
As an interim measure, in the interest of the public at large, rather in the interest of the Nation, the Court directed that till next date of hearing, Political Functionaries and the Functionaries of the State were directed to strictly abide by the "Covid-19 protocol" prescribed by the Central Govt., State Govt. and the District Magistrate of the concerned District from time to time for regulating the congregation of any nature.
Looking to the important nature of cause raised in the Public Interest Litigation, Advocate Sanjay Dwivedi, Advocate Raju Sharma, and Advocate V.D.Sharma were appointed as Amicus Curiae to assist this court for rendering justice.
However, on 25th September the Bench of Justice Sheel Nagu and Justice Rajeev Kumar Shrivastava had observed that the COVID pandemic is on the rise in the district of Gwalior and that the number of deaths is also on the rise.
The Court had further observed,
"In such a situation if the Executive Authorities do not prevent the congregation of a large number of people in violation of restrictions laid down by the Central Government, State Government and the District Magistrate then this Court may have to step in to do something which the Executive Authorities of the State failed to do." (emphasis supplied)
Further, the High Court on Tuesday (29th September) observed that the executive authorities who are responsible for the execution of the COVID Guidelines (to contain the spread of COVID) are unable to discharge their duties.
The Bench of Justices Sheel Nagu and Rajeev Kumar Shrivastava further thought it appropriate to hear in person the District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police of five districts namely Morena, Bhind, Gwalior, Datia and Shivpuri through video conferencing on Wednesday (i.e. 30.09.2020) at 9:30 am.
Court's Observation on Saturday (03rd October)
After hearing said executive authorities of the five districts, the common thread visible from their revelation made to the Court was that though all-out efforts are being made by them to ensure compliance of Covid-19 protocol but on account of ignorance and lack of civic sense among the public at large, a breach happens.
The practical problem pointed out by these executive authorities was that in the given circumstances, it is not advisable to employ force against a large number of persons since such a step would cause greater damage than resolving the issue.
This Court was of the considered view that in the present scenario when the bi-elections have recently been announced by the Election Commission of India for different seats in the said five districts, the congregations which are taking place time and again are predominantly political in nature, where particular political functionaries who may be part of State/Government or not are invariably present to either preside over the congregation or to be the cause of the said congregation.
"The political functionaries and functionaries of the government and the State are duty-bound to set such examples of conduct, behaviour and deeds which can enable their followers/voters/citizens to follow the path of rectitude and obedience of the law and lawfully passed orders and instructions", the Court stated.
Further, the Court said that it is required and expected of the political functionaries to abide by the COVID-19 protocol, the restrictions and prohibitions imposed thereunder from time to time and refrain from indulging in any activity, conduct or behaviour which can lead to the collection of a large number of people.
Lastly, in the public interest the Court passed the following interim order:
A. The prevailing Covid-19 protocol with all its restrictions and prohibitions issued from time to time by the Central Government, State Government and the District Magistrates of the five districts, namely, Morena, Bhind, Gwalior, Datia and Shivpuri shall be complied with by all the members of all the political parties in fray in the forthcoming bi-elections of the M.P. State Legislative Assembly in the said five districts.
B. The prevailing Covid-19 protocol with all its restrictions and prohibitions issued from time to time by the Central Government, State Government and the District Magistrates of the five districts, namely, Morena, Bhind, Gwalior, Datia and Shivpuri shall be complied with by all the political functionaries who are occupying any public office by way of appointment or election during the ongoing process of elections to the M.P. State Legislative Assembly in the said five districts.
C. The Covid-19 restrictions and prohibitions imposed by the Election Commission of India in their Code of Conduct shall be strictly adhered to by all concerned including the Government/Political/State functionaries.
D. The members of the political parties are advised not to physically conduct the election campaigns and instead adopt electronic means for the purpose.
E. In case, any of the prohibitions, restrictions & precautions in Covid-19 protocols issued from time to time by the Central Government/State Government/District Magistrates are found to be breached by a congregation which is of political or social nature then the District Magistrates of the nine districts falling within the territorial jurisdiction of this Bench i.e. Gwalior, Guna, Morena, Bhind, Vidisha, Ashok Nagar, Datia, Shivpuri and Sheopur is directed by writ of mandamus to register offences by invoking penal provisions of the Disaster Management Act and the Indian Penal Code not only against the defaulting members of the congregation but also against political/governmental/State or social functionaries in whose name or on whose behest and behalf the said congregation takes place, failing which the District Magistrates of the concerned nine districts shall be liable for contempt of this Court and shall also be exposed to the rigours of penal provisions of relevant laws.
Three learned advocates who had been appointed as Amicus Curiae have been requested to point out any breach of this interim order or of the prevailing COVID-19 protocol.
In case, any such breach is pointed out by the Amicus Curiae or any citizen, then the Principal Registrar has been directed to immediately place this matter before the appropriate Bench for adjudication even at the cost of preponement.
The Matter has been listed for further hearing on Thursday (15th October 2020).
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