Wear masks, maintain physical distance during campaign, HC tells parties and candidates

The court says it will do well for Election Commission to send the message across

The Madras High Court on Monday made a fervent request to all political parties as well as candidates contesting in the Assembly election to ensure wearing of masks and maintenance of physical distancing during their campaign since a second wave of COVID-19 appeared to have begun in Tamil Nadu.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said it would do well for the Election Commission, too, to send a message across in this regard to all parties and the Independent candidates. The observations were made while they disposed of a public interest litigation petition that sought to ban campaigning.

A. Jalaudeen, 50, of Othakadai in Madurai had filed the petition in the Madurai Bench. However, it was transferred to the principal seat in compliance with an administrative decision taken to list all election-related cases before the first Bench, led by the Chief Justice, in order to avoid multiplicity of proceedings.

The petitioner had stated that the Assembly election had been announced even before the State could recover fully from the damage caused to life and its economy by the lockdown to fight the pandemic since March 2020. He pointed out that thousands of people had died since last year, and more were losing their lives to the novel coronavirus infection.

Nevertheless, parties had been merrily organising campaign meetings and also on a spree visiting every other nook and corner of the State to garner votes, the petitioner complained. Fearing that such gatherings might lead to a surge in the number of cases, he insisted that parties be content with campaigning through the media.

When the case was listed for admission, the first Division Bench agreed that the increasing number of cases was a matter of concern. However, since the election was notified nearly a month ago and polling was scheduled after a fortnight, the court said it could not interfere at this stage and order a blanket ban on campaigning. Nevertheless, it requested the parties and the candidates to ensure that the COVID-19 protocol was followed in letter and in spirit during the campaign.

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