Hyderabad: The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Sunday set aside the State Election Commission’s order confining panchayat raj minister P. Ramachandra Reddy to his home. But the Court restrained the minister from interacting with the media till all phases of the gram panchayat polls are over on February 21.
The HC came up with the “via media solution” to remedy a surcharged ground situation, with differences between and mutual accusations by the SEC and the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy government between whom, the court pointed out, “there is no love lost.”
Passing an interim order in a house motion, moved by the minister and state government, Justice D.V.S.S. Somayajulu brought to the fore the overstepping of their respective jurisdictions by both the minister and the SEC.
“The language used leaves much to be desired. Freedom of speech is not an absolute and a reasonable restriction can be imposed,” the judge pointed, out referring to the minister’s warning to returning officers of severe action if they do not announce unanimous elections.
In the same breath, the HC observed that the “SEC does not have power to direct that the petitioner (minister) be confined to his residential premises.”
Further Justice Somayajulu categorically said, “The power of superintendence and control over elections and its process cannot extend to passing an order restraining the petitioner from leaving his house.”
Dealing with the delicate situation involving two constitutionally empowered bodies on an incessant collision course, the court said, “The petitioner before this court is a minister, who has taken oath on the Constitution of India. The first respondent (SEC) is another Constitutional authority, with certain powers which are given to it for the smooth conduct of the elections in the state. They are the contesting parties.”
On the minister’s contention that he was only propagating the government’s policy of encouraging unanimous polls, Justice Somayajulu said the former’s “threat to officials is a clear interference in the election process”.
The HC’s observations that no person can be deprived of life and liberty, except as per the procedure established by law, also exposed the chinks in the armour of N. Ramesh Kumar, the State Election Commissioner, whose actions in certain instances have drawn widespread criticism.
The HC order, beyond any doubt, establishes that the SEC did not follow due process of law in the instant case.