By LE Staff
New Delhi, May 3: The media cannot be stopped from reporting any court hearing, the Supreme Court said on Monday as the Election Commission complained against the Madras High Court’s observation that the poll watchdog was singularly responsible for the rise in Covid-19 cases
“Media is a powerful watchdog in democracy, it cannot be stopped from reporting discussions in higher courts. Seeking relief such as media should not report on observations is too far-fetched,” the Supreme Court said in its observations, news agency PTI reported. “We don’t want to demoralise HCs as they are vital pillars of democracy,” the apex court further said today.
The Election Commission had said the Madras HC’s comment was “uncalled for, blatantly disparaging and derogatory” and moved the apex court on Saturday.
Coming down heavily on the Election Commission for “not stopping political parties” from violating Covid protocols during their campaign rallies for Assembly polls in four states and a Union Territory over the last month, the Madras HC had said that murder charges should probably be imposed on the panel for being “the only institution responsible for the situation that we are in today”.
The Election Commission’s petition before the Supreme Court says the remarks “dented the institution” and asks that the media be stopped from reporting observations. It also points at the role of the government, which is significant as the government has often shifted the responsibility of enforcing Covid safety rules to the election body.
“Without any opportunity (given) to the Election Commission or any reply being sought from officers responsible under the Disaster Management Act, we have been castigated,” the election body argued today.
Lawyer Rakesh Dwivedi, representing the Election Commission, said it was the government under the Disaster Management Authority that had to manage the rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister (E Palaniswami) and “they committed the breach” but the Commission had been castigated even though its officials suffered Covid and had the tough task of conducting elections, NDTV reported.
The Supreme Court replied that the Election Commission is the constitutional authority to conduct elections. “We cannot in today’s time say that media will not report the contents of court hearing. Discussions taking place in the High Court have equal public interest as the final order of the court,” it said.
“Something is observed in the larger public interest. The Election Commission should treat it as a bitter pill in the right way,” said Justice MR Shah.
Justice DY Chandrachud added: “We don’t want to demoralise our High Courts. They are vital pillars of the judiciary. Sometimes a free-flowing dialogue takes place in the court and judges make observations… You cannot control how judges will conduct proceedings.”
High Court judges are at liberty to ask inconvenient questions, Justice Chandrachud asserted, as reported by NDTV.
The Election Commission countered that it was “a conclusion not a dialogue” and the observations were not in the final order.
“Everything cannot be put in the order? It is a human process,” responded Justice Shah.
On Friday, the Madras High Court had refused to entertain a petition by the Election Commission seeking to restrain media from publishing the court’s oral observations blaming the poll body for the rise in Covid-19 cases.
The High Court had also come down heavily on the Centre for its poor preparedness in handling the second wave of pandemic. On a suo motu public interest writ proceeding initiated to check the preparedness of the state to tackle the second wave besides assessing the availability of oxygen, beds, drugs and ventilators to treat Covid patients, the first bench of CJ Banerjee and Ramamoorthy asked the Centre what they were doing for the past 10 to 15 months.