22 April 2021 11:08 AM GMT
The Election Commission on Thursday (22nd April) faced censure from the Calcutta High Court over its handling of the elections in West-Bengal amid the COVID crisis. The Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee remarked, "We are unable to reconcile the fact that the Election Commission of India is not able to update us as to what action by...
The Election Commission on Thursday (22nd April) faced censure from the Calcutta High Court over its handling of the elections in West-Bengal amid the COVID crisis.
The Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee remarked,
"We are unable to reconcile the fact that the Election Commission of India is not able to update us as to what action by way of enforcement of the circulars has been obtained."
Further, the Court underlined that issuance of circulars and holding of meetings by themselves do not discharge the onerous responsibility of the Election Commission of India and officers under its command in due performance of not only the statutory power and authority under the Representation of People Act, 1950 and the Representation of People Act, 1951.
The Court also remarked that the Commission had been entrusted with the duty to carry forward the mechanism of upholding the democracy by the use of requisite facilities even in pandemic times like heightened challenge by COVID-19 virus and its variants.
The Court expressly observed that it was not satisfied with the materials on record to state that the Election Commission of India and its officers on the ground in West Bengal have enforced their circulars.
Importantly, the Court said,
"We are sure that circulars are not merely advisories to be wrapped up by the political parties or those involved in the political propaganda or even the public at large."
The Court also stressed that the circulars of the Election Commission of India showed the route map and the protocol for human behavior, meaning thereby the behavior of the political parties, their workers, the people at large and responsible management by the officers including the police and other forces under the command of the Election Commission of India.
Lastly, asking the Election Commission of India to return to make submissions with a very short affidavit reflecting on whatever we the Court stated, the Court posted the matters as the first item tomorrow (23rd April 2021).
The background of the matter
It may be noted that on the last hearing, the Calcutta High Court had asked Chief Election Commission and the Chief Electoral Officer to utilize such Government officials and police force as may be necessary to ensure strict compliance with COVID-19 Protocols & guidelines.
The Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee observed this after perusing a report by the Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal with regard to the measures taken for implementation of the COVID-19 guidelines during polls.
Earlier this month, the Calcutta High Court had issued directions to the District Magistrate of all districts and Chief Election Officer, West Bengal, to ensure that COVID guidelines for conducting elections are implemented in a strict manner in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases in the State.
Noting that the guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India and Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal, "need to be implemented in the strictest manner possible", the Court has directed the Administration to ensure the same.
Further, the Court had directed that stringent measures must be taken "against persons who fail, neglect or refuse to obey the COVID protocols".
"Callous, irresponsible and nonchalant attitude or the behavior of some of the members of the society cannot be permitted to endanger the lives of the other members of the society", observed the Order while stating that if any person, whether engaged in election campaigning or otherwise, was found flouting COVID protocols, "such a person must be taken to task immediately".
Case title – Nitish Debnath v. Election Commission of India & Ors. & Sankar Halder & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors.
Click here to download the Order