Today, the Supreme Court observed that there was no reason to interfere in Andhra Pradesh State Election Commission's decision to postpone local body elections on account of the possible Coronavirus outbreak.
A Bench comprising of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant passed an order wherein they noted that,
"We do not see any reason why this Court should interfere with the decision of the Respondent - Election Commission to postpone the elections particularly since the postponement is due to the possible outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic in the country. We therefore decline to interfere with the said decision of the Election Commission".
State of Andhra Pradesh had filed a petition challenging the notification issued by Andhra Pradesh State Election Commission to postpone the elections for local bodies such as Panchayats and Municipal Bodies by six weeks on account of COVID-19.
ASG ANS Nadkarni, on behalf of the State, raised the issue that the EC did not have the authority to postpone the elections without consulting with the State Government. A 2006 judgment of Kishansing Tomar v. Municipal Corporation of the City of Ahmedabad and Ors. was relied upon by Nadkarni to buttress the submission.
However, this was refuted by Senior Advocate Shekhar Naphade, representing the Election Commission, who stated that the decision in Kishansing Tomar did not require prior consultation.
While holding that this was a controversy which the Bench did not want to delve into at this point, the following direction was passed:
"We direct that since the Election Commission has already taken the decision to postpone the Elections, there will be a post decisional consultation with the State of Andhra Pradesh before the next date is notified by the Election Commission".
Senior Advocate Shekhar Naphade, contested the maintainability of the writ petition filed under Article 32 by the State of Andhra Pradesh.
However, the Bench refused to go into the question of maintainability of the writ petition on account of the "emergent circumstances in which the same is filed". They further noted that the question of determination of maintainability would be left open in case it arises in any other appropriate case.
An additional grievance raised by ASG Nadkarni was regarding the imposition of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) in light of the elections which had led to the suspension of development activities being undertaken in the State. He stated that the said imposition was not justified if the Elections were to be postponed.
The Bench saw substance in the submission and directed for the MCC to be reimposed four weeks before the date of polling. Additionally, the Bench also directed for the present development activities which had already been undertaken to not be interrupted till the MCC was reimposed. However, any fresh development activities of the State Government could only be conducted with prior permission of the EC.
The Bench also passed a direction that "in no circumstances, the State Government shall be prevented from taking necessary steps to curb the menace of Coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic".
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