Vijayawada: In a setback to the Andhra Pradesh government, the AP High Court has allowed the conduct of gram panchayat polls scheduled to be held in four phases from February 5 to 17 in the state.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Arup Kumar Goswami and Justice C. Praveen Kumar delivered the verdict here on Thursday, allowing conduct of polls after setting aside an interim order issued by a single judge suspending the election process.
The High Court observed that as the conduct of election and vaccination programmes were of vital importance for the people, it asked both the state government and State Election Commission to make endeavours to ensure that both were to be conducted smoothly and successfully.
The court said that the State Election Commissioner addressed the issue of the vaccination programme raised by the state government. It observed that the commissioner may not have agreed with the views of the government on conduct of polls, even though a consultation took place between both sides.
The court opined that the single judge did not assign any reason in which aspects the SEC failed to consider the state government’s views on conduct of elections and how the conduct of elections would hamper vaccination process, as the SEC maintained that vaccination for category-I and II beneficiaries would not affect polls in any way, while election process would be completed before launch of vaccination for more than 93 lakh people in category-III.
The court said that conduct of elections to panchayats, municipalities and even legislative Assembly in the height of Covid-19 pandemic was not a dispute as the Supreme Court in the case of Satish Kumar Sharma issued an order on October 8, last year, directing the State Election Commission in Rajasthan to notify elections for municipal corporations in a week.
The court observed that the SEC had decided to fulfil its obligation to hold elections as it was overdue by almost two-and-half-years.
The court said the interim order issued affected the valuable right of the SEC to carry out its constitutional requirement of holding elections to gram panchayats. It said it failed to understand how the commissioner was acting malafide in the sense of pursuing an illegitimate aim.
Earlier, in the course of arguments during hearings held in the court, Advocate General S. Sriram appearing for the state government, said the writ appeal filed by the SEC seeking to set aside the single judge’s order suspending election schedule, was not maintainable under Clause 15 of the Letters Patent, saying that the impugned order was not a judgement.
He contended that the single judge exercised his discretion to pass an interim order in a judicious manner, keeping in mind the facts and circumstances of the case. He said the appellate court ought not to interfere in such exercise of discretion and substitute its opinion, unless such exercise of discretion found to be incorrect or untenable.
The AG drew the attention of the court to a letter written by the election commissioner on October 28, 2020, addressed to the Union home secretary, attributing motive to the YSR Congress government, stating that it was determined not to hold elections in his tenure as it was going to be over by next March.
He referred to another letter written to the Governor on the same day, stating that the government was not intending to conduct elections as he would be strict in holding free and fair elections.
The AG said the state government wanted the election to be deferred until completion of the first phase of vaccination while the election commissioner wanted the election to be held in his tenure, even at the cost of large public interest, public health and unmindful of the vaccination programme.
State Election Commissioner’s senior counsel D.V. Srirama Murthy dismissed the allegations on the commissioner that he had a predetermined bent of mind to conduct elections and consultations with the state government were a mere formality, saying they were “baseless”.