January 11: The Andhra Pradesh high court on Monday suspended the schedule announced by state election commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar for the conduct of the gram panchayat elections in the state in February.
Justice M Ganga Rao, who took up a lunch motion petition filed by the Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy government challenging the election schedule announced by the SEC on Friday evening, observed that the commission had not taken an objective decision in announcing the schedule and did not take into consideration the objections of the government.
“The SEC decision was in violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India,” Justice Rao observed, the Hindustan Times reported.
The judge expressed the view that the election process for gram panchayats would hamper the vaccination programme. “The SEC has not objectively considered the view of the government and had approached the subject matter in its own domain,” he said.
In the interests of public health, the impugned orders are suspended, Justice Rao ordered.
An official in the SEC said the commission would file a review petition before the division bench of the high court on Tuesday.
On Friday night, Ramesh Kumar announced the election schedule for gram panchayats. As per the schedule, the first phase of elections for gram panchayats would be held on February 5, second phase on February 9, third phase on February 13 and fourth phase on February 17.
The notifications for these four phases of elections would be issued on January 23, January 27, January 31 and February 4 respectively. He also announced enforcement of model code of conduct with effect from Saturday.
The Jagan government, which has been at loggerheads with Ramesh Kumar ever since the latter kept the local body elections in abeyance in March owing to Coronavirus pandemic, strongly objected to the unilateral announcement of the schedule for the conduct of local body elections by the SEC.
“This is nothing but defying the directions of the Supreme Court, which said the state election commission should decide the schedule only after consulting with the state government on its preparedness,” state principal secretary, panchayat raj, Gopala Krishna Dwivedi said in a statement.
He said the three-member committee of senior officials headed by chief secretary Adityanath Das, which met Ramesh Kumar, categorically told him that the elections to local bodies could not be conducted due to the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic situation and vaccination programme being rolled out by the Government of India from January 16.
“The commissioner did not heed to the suggestions given by the state government, which said the conduct of elections was not possible as the entire government machinery would be busy with the vaccination programme. He has announced the schedule with caring for the public health and sought to play with the lives of the people,” Dwivedi said.
On Sunday, state government employees’ unions, police officers’ association and representatives of the health department employees’ union issued separate statements announcing that they would not take part in the electioneering, as they could not take risk during the pandemic season.
Ramesh Kumar defended his decision to hold the elections in February as the state government’s excuses were untenable. He said near normalcy had returned with the opening up of commercial and educational spheres of activity and political mobilization too was going on at a large scale without visible observance of social distancing.
“Now, the government wants deferment of elections on the pretext of vaccination, which is a continuous process. In fact, the phase-III of the vaccination programme will extend up to 2022. Hence, elections cannot be postponed till then,” Ramesh Kumar argued.