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Andhra Pradesh appoints retired high court judge as new SEC


Andhra Pradesh government on Saturday appointed retired high court judge Justice V. Kanagaraj as the new State Election Commissioner (SEC), a day after removing N. Ramesh Kumar following a row over postponement of local body elections.

The government late Friday removed Ramesh Kumar by issuing an ordinance to reduce SEC's term from five years to three years.

Kanagaraj, 75, served as the judge of Madras High Court. He took the charge as SEC on Saturday morning.

This followed nearly a month long row after Ramesh Kumar postponed the local body elections citing precautionary measures required to check the spread of coronavirus, triggering angry reaction from YSR Congress Party government, which accused him of acting at the behest of opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan on Friday issued an ordinance, amending Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj Act, 1994.

The ordinance brought down the term of SEC from five years to three years, thus abruptly ending the term of Ramesh Kumar who was appointed in 2016. It also has a provision to re-appoint the SEC for another term of three years.

The ordinance also changed the eligibility for SEC. According to it, the governor on the recommendation of the government shall appoint a person, who has held an office of the judge of a high court, as State Election Commissioner.

Ramesh Kumar's removal capped nearly a month-long row between YSR Congress Party government and Ramesh Kumar after the latter postponed the local body elections.

Kumar, an IAS officer, had strained relations with the Chief Minister Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who had personally met the governor to complain against him on March 14 hours after the SEC postponed the elections to rural and urban local bodies were scheduled on March 21 and 23 respectively.

The chief minister had slammed the SEC for his unilateral decision and alleged that he acted at the behest of leader of opposition N. Chandrababu Naidu, who was unable to digest the fact that YSR Congress Party was heading to sweep the polls.

The High Court and the Supreme Court upheld the SEC decision to postpone the elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the apex court relaxed the poll code till announcement of the next schedule.

Meanwhile, all the opposition parties slammed the Jagan government, dubbing its action aundemocratic'.

TDP said it was exploring options to legally challenge the ordinance in court.

TDP president and leader of opposition Chandrababu Naidu, in a letter to the governor, sought his intervention to uphold the rule of law and democratic values.

He said the government brought in amendment to Section 200 of APPR Act, 1994 with vicious design to remove the present SEC.

"The process of local body elections is currently on. In such circumstances, what is the necessity to bring in amendment through backdoor in the form of ordinance to change the term and eligibilityAof the SEC," he asked.

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