AP High Court suspends Panchayat polls for now

In a major relief to the state government busy with the Covid-19 vaccination programme, the Andhra Pradesh High Court suspended the order of the State Election Commission (SEC) to hold gram panchayat polls. Issuing an interim order, the court posted the case for next hearing on February 15.
Vacation bench judge Justice M. Ganga Rao heard the petition filed by the state government seeking declaration of schedule of elections for local bodies, imposing the model code of conduct and the consequential proceedings banning transfers, as arbitrary as “illegal” on the ground they violated Article 14 of the Constitution. The government also urged the court to issue a direction to the SEC to stop further proceedings relating to the election process.
The Judge stated that the SEC issued the order for conduct of gram panchayat polls without holding proper consultations with the state government even as the Supreme Court had directed the SEC earlier to do so. The court opined that the impugned decision of the SEC was violative of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
“The SEC’s decision to conduct elections would hamper the mammoth vaccination programme taken up by the Centre. It would also seriously affect the state government’s efforts to check the Covid-19 spread as also its mutation, affecting the public health,” the court observed.
The court heard the arguments from advocate general S. Sriram, SEC’s standing counsel N. Ashwani Kumar, standing counsel for SEC and state election commissioner N. Ashwani Kumar and assistant solicitor general for Union of India represented by its secretary to the ministry of health and family welfare and also Union of India represented by home secretary, N. Haranath.
After hearing them, the court issued notice to the respondents to show cause as to why the writ petition should not be admitted, and directed the SEC secretary and election commissioner, secretary for Union ministry of health and family welfare and home secretary to the Union of India, to show cause either by appearing in person or through an advocate before Feb. 15.
Advocate general S. Sriram argued that the SEC had unilaterally notified the election schedule for gram panchayat polls without taking into consideration the efforts of the state government to take up the Covid-19 vaccination programme. He admitted that the state government was having the responsibility to conduct polls. But, keeping in mind the importance of saving the lives of the people, the government was opposing the conduct of polls as announced by the SEC, he said.
The AG also informed the court that the SEC failed to come up with any clarification on the earlier notification issued for conducting the MPTC and ZPTC polls as they too were halted to safeguard the health of the people.
SEC counsel N. Ashwani Kumar argued that once the election notification was issued, courts were not supposed to intervene in the matter. Referring to the Supreme Court orders issued earlier, he urged the court not to issue any interim order to stop the election process.
Assistant solicitor general representing the Centre, N. Haranath, informed the court that as the Centre was getting ready for taking up the vaccination programme, the states were duty-bound to implement it.

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