Why didn’t you stall ULB polls? asks HC

Court faults SEC for not using the powers it had to shrink campaign period

What was the need to hold elections to seven urban local bodies despite the massive surge in COVID-19 cases in the State, Telangana High Court asked State Election Commission on Thursday.

Taking a serious objection to the SEC’s decision to conduct elections to Warangal and Khammam municipal corporations along with five other municipalities, the HC wondered if “the SEC officials were living in a bubble”. “How can the SEC justify conducting the polls when people are losing lives to COVID-19?” a bench of Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy said.

The bench was hearing a batch of PIL pleas seeking to defer elections to the two municipal corporations and seven other municipalities spread over five districts. The CJ asked senior counsel Vidya Sagar, appearing for SEC, as to why the Commission did not defer the elections despite having powers.

If elections were not conducted on completion of the term of these municipal corporations and municipalities, the government could have appointed special officers who would have discharged the duties of the local bodies. Yet the SEC chose to hold elections to the seven ULBs even as the State and the entire country was passing through a turbulent period of tackling COVID-19 crisis, the bench noted.

The SEC began preparations for the polls in December, 2020. In next two months i.e. by February-end, Coronavirus positive cases began rising alarmingly across the State. While the entire State was reeling under COVID-19 second wave, the SEC went ahead with the polls. “Why did the SEC show such a hurry in holding the polls when the State is going through a serious situation?” the CJ asked.

The bench remarked that the SEC had power to shrink the campaign period of the elections. Instead of doing so, the Commission permitted political parties to take out rallies and hold public meetings. “What is the point of SEC not using the power it had,” the bench said.

“Are we not waging a war against COVID-19… Why did not SEC stall the polls…. why it wrote to government seeking assistance to conduct the municipal elections,” the CJ asked Secretary to State Election Commission Ashok Kumar. When he said the elections were confined to only a few districts, the CJ read out the number of positive cases in the districts — Khammam-213, Mahabubnagar-271, Nagarkurnool-216, Rangareddy-558, Suryapet-264 and Warangal Urban-164 — where the elections were being held.

With so many number of cases, was the Commission not risking the lives of election staff and the police personnel attending to poll duties, the bench said. The pleas were posted to May 5 for next hearing.

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