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[Breaking] 'COVID-19 Not A Ground To Postpone Elections' : SC Dismisses Petitions To Defer Bihar Polls

Radhika Roy
28 Aug 2020 6:26 AM GMT
[Breaking] COVID-19 Not A Ground To Postpone Elections : SC Dismisses Petitions To Defer Bihar Polls
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The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed two pleas seeking for a direction to the Chief Election Commissioner for the postponement of the impending Bihar Assembly Elections on account of the COVID-19 pandemic and the State being ravaged due to floods.

A Bench comprising of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah heard the matter and observed that the plea was premature as the Election Commission of India had yet to issue a notification announcing the declaration of the elections in the State.

The Petitioner argued before the Court that the Representation of People Act, 1951 allowed for elections to be deferred due to extraordinary situations. He further submitted, "Election was not paramount; human life is paramount. Even MLAs are dying and people are suffering."

However, the Bench was not inclined to allow the plea and informed the Counsel that such orders could not be passed, and that it was for the ECI to decide.

Justice Bhushan stated that the plea was "misconceived" and could not be allowed under Article 32 of the Constitution as the election was yet to be declared, and therefore, the Petitioners could not cite the pandemic as the reason to seek for the postponement of the elections.

"COVID is not a ground for postponement of elections. This court cannot tell CEC what to do. It will consider everything", Justice Bhushan remarked

Justice Shah, on the other hand, informed the Counsels that the Election Commission would take the ground realities into consideration and ensure that sufficient precautions were taken before conducting the elections.

Accordingly, both the pleas were dismissed.

One of the pleas, by lawyer-social worker Rajesh Jaiswal, prayed to the Apex Court for a direction to the Chief Election Commissioner to not recommend to the Government of Bihar to publish the notification of election to its State Legislative Assembly in the Official Gazette until the competent authority declared the State of Bihar a Covid-free and flood-free state.

The petition, filed through Advocate-on-Record Shantanu Sagar, was desirous that the Commissioner decided his application in this regard and refrain from recommending elections to the Legislative Assembly of the State of Bihar.

The Petitioner noted whether the Election Commission had total unawareness of the "extraordinary circumstances and prohibitions" in the whole nation, and more particularly the constituencies which are likely to go for the polls, and had "convinced itself that free and fair elections could be held" amidst the prevailing state of affairs.

The second Petitioner, Avinash Thakur, a dairy farmer, was aggrieved by the news published in the Times of India on August 12 which quoted the Chief Election Commissioner as saying that the Bihar Assembly Elections, 2020 would be held as per schedule, ignoring the fact that Bihar is grappling with Covid-19 and the floods.

"There is a very high degree of risk of coronavirus exposure at in-person polling places", it was urged in the plea through Advocates Ashutosh Thakur and Neeraj Shekhar.

At present, the polls are expected to be held in Bihar in October, 2020 to elect 243 members of the Bihar legislative assembly. The plea contended that announcing the elections at this time will impose an additional burden on an already embattled administration. The politicians in administration are now focusing on election preparation instead of battling with flood and COVID 19.

It was further contended that declaring an election during a pandemic/flood would be completely devastating, wrong and, in a way, would take away the right to vote of the citizens in flood-hit areas who are struggling for their life.  

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