HC stays panchayat poll notification till further orders

Judge suspends SEC order ‘in the interest of public health’

A single-Judge Vacation Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court comprising Justice M. Ganga Rao on Monday granted stay till further orders on the State Election Commission’s decision to hold gram panchayat (GP) elections in four phases next month.

Advocate-General S. Sriram asserted that the action of the SEC was premeditated and swayed by material extraneous to record and mala fide. He insisted that the SEC treated the concerns raised by the government as adversarial but not as a participant in the process of fixing the election schedule.

The A-G said the duty to be fair, reasonable and non-arbitrary equally applied to the SEC. He observed that the SEC had said at the time of postponing the elections for MPTCs and ZPTCs that it would resume the process from where it is stopped. But, it (SEC) set the ball rolling for gram panchayat elections without making a mention of the MPTC and ZPTC elections.

Mr. Sriram said the SEC did not apply its mind to the enormity of the ground situation arising from vaccination, the involvement of many government departments in it and the deployment of men and resources for tackling the COVID pandemic.

Appearing for the SEC, senior advocate N. Ashwani Kumar said the government had been seeking postponement of the elections on one pretext or the other, but Justice Ganga Rao observed that the impugned order of the SEC ought to be suspended in the interest of public health.

In the petition filed by it on Saturday, the government maintained that the vaccination drive would be akin to a general election and its entire machinery would be involved in the process.

The court-mandated consultative process was going to be a farce and an empty formality going by the tone and tenor of the letters which State Election Commissioner N. Ramesh Kumar wrote to the Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary (Panchayat Raj) regarding the conduct of elections, it was stated.

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