MADHYA PRADESH HC’S ORDER RESTRAINING PHYSICAL POLL, STAYED BY SC

Bihar State Elections are the first election in the country and the biggest one globally since the pandemic, the first phase of the elections will begin from 28th October, 2020. Several changes and guidelines to maintain norms of social distancing have been observed by the Election Commission keeping in mind safety of the voters and poll officials. The voting timings have been extended. An hour towards the end is reserved for Covid positive patients so that they are not deprived from participating in the democratic process. 

According to the Election Commission of India, 7 lakh hand sanitizers, 46 lakh masks, 6 lakh PPE kits, 6.7 lakh face shields and 23 lakh pairs of hand gloves have been arranged for the polls. Postal ballot facility has also been made available wherever required on request. Campaigns will also be restricted. Door to door campaigning is permissible but maximum 4 people can accompany the candidate. Apart from these large halls, thermal screening, compulsory masks throughout the process are other protocols in place.

Political campaigns have begun in Madhya Pradesh. Subsequently, a PIL had been filed in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh highlighting that physical campaigning by political parties was causing increase in the spread of COVID-19. In addition, the PIL also stated that nobody from the public is taking any action against these political parties. After hearing this PIL, the Gwalior bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court passed an order restraining any physical gathering for poll campaign amid the pandemic. 

The High Court’s order stated that the political parties will have to get permission from the district magistrate and if the parties want to hold any kind of physical gathering, a certificate from the poll panel will be required establishing that virtual campaign was not possible under any circumstances. Furthermore, the political parties will have to deposit money for procuring masks and sanitizers for the people taking part in the campaign. In its order, the High Court had also directed the District Magistrates of Datia and Gwalior to assure that FIRs are registered against former Chief Minister Kamal Nath and Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar for alleged violation of COVID-19 norms during election campaigns.

Three pleas were filed against the HC’s order by Election Commission of India, by BJP leader Pradyuman Singh Tomar and Munna Lal Goyal and heard by Justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna. The primary grounds of the same being, violation of “right to conduct elections” and disregarding the guidelines made by ECI. On 26th October, 2020 SC while staying the order of Madhya Pradesh HC, declined to decide or elaborate upon the contentions or merits of the case raised by the appellants. 

Further, it directed the Election Commission of India to take cognizance of issues raised in the petition before the High Court and list it within six weeks. The rationale behind the non-interference was adherence to Part XV, Article 324, 329 of the Constitution which bar judicial interference in the electoral process and fixate the duty on ECI. Hence SC’s order restored the electoral process, however the ECI can take further actions in determining the validity of issues raised.

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