New Delhi: The Madras high court on Monday came down heavily on the Election Commission (EC), saying it was the “only institution” responsible for the deadly COVID-19 second wave India is seeing today. Four states and one union territory are conducting assembly elections at the moment, and the EC allowed election rallies to be held as normal even though it was visible that COVID-19 protocol was not being followed.
A bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy was hearing a petition on whether there were adequate COVID-19 safety procedures in place during vote counting at the Karur constituency, Bar and Bench reported.
“You [the EC] are the only institution that is responsible for the situation today. No action against political parties taking rallies despite every order of the Court. Your election commission should be put up on murder charges probably!” Chief Justice Banerjee said on Monday.
In its order too, the bench reiterated how the EC had been asked multiple times to ensure that the pandemic does not worsen because of elections, but these calls went unheeded:
“Despite repeated orders of this court going on like a broken record at the foot of at least every election petition entertained that COVID protocol ought to be maintaining during the campaign time the significance of adhering to such protocol may have been lost on the Election Commission going by the puerile silence on the part of the Commission as campaigns and rallies were conducted without distancing norms being maintained and in wanton disregard of the other items of the protocol.”
EC’s standing counsel, advocate Niranjan Rajagopalan, told the court that measured had been put in place to ensure COVID-19 protocol during vote counting. “Were you on another planet when political rallies were being held?” the chief justice asked when Rajagopalan said that.
If the EC does not provide a suitable blueprint on how COVID-19 safety norms will be followed on counting day, the bench observed according to LiveLaw, the court will not allow the counting of votes to continue on May 2.
“At no cost can the counting result in a catalyst for a further surge, politics or no politics, and whether the counting takes place in a staggered manner or is deferred. Public health is of paramount importance and it is distressing that constitutional authorities have to be reminded in such regard. It is only when the citizen survives that he enjoys the other rights that this democratic republic guarantees unto him. The situation is now one of survival and protection and everything else comes second to it,” the order stated
The measures must not be limited to Karur, the court insisted.
“Similar appropriate measures have to be adopted at every counting center and it is upon … regular sanitisation, proper hygienic conditions, the mandatory wearing of masks and adherence to distancing norms should any counting begin or be continued. The State Health Secretary and Director of Public Health should be consulted by Election Commission and the officer responsible in the State to put appropriate measures in place immediately.”
The case is next listed for hearing on April 30, and the EC’s blueprint must be placed on the record before that, the court said.