Bhopal: SC stays MP HC order restraining physical campaigning for bypolls

BHOPAL: The Supreme Court on Monday stayed Madhya Pradesh High Court order directing political parties to go for ‘virtual’ election campaigning and rallies for the upcoming Assembly bypolls.

A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar was hearing the petitions of Election Commission of India (ECI) and BJP candidate and state minister Pradyuman Singh Tomar challenging the High Court’s order of October 20.

Madhya Pradesh Advocate General Purshendra Kaurav said, the apex court has stayed the order of the Gwalior bench of the High Court that put stringent restrictions on physical campaigning by candidates in view of the pandemic situation. Bypoll for 28 assembly seats in the state will be held on November 3.

The apex court also asked the ECI to take an appropriate decision with regard to political rallies as per law and keeping in mind Covid-19 guidelines. The court refused to "say anything on the merits" of the case.

The top court also asked senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Tomar, to make a representation to the ECI for loss of time in electioneering due to HC's order.

The High Court had made a condition that physical gathering is permissible only if the local District Magistrate is convinced that virtual mode is not possible. But even then, physical gatherings would be allowed only after the political parties deposit with the District Magistrate money sufficient to buy "double the number of masks and sanitisers required for protecting the number of persons expected in the gathering".

Tomar in his plea argued that the High Court order violated his right to conduct election campaigns through physical gatherings as permitted by the Election Commission, Central Government and the State of Madhya Pradesh. Tomar further said that ECI should consider whether he should get more time to campaign as lost six days of campaigning. Three hours a day must be added for the campaign, asked Tomar’s counsel.

The ECI had on September 29 had announced by-elections to the Legislative Assemblies of several States, including Madhya Pradesh. The EC had permitted public gatherings, election rallies subject to the COVID-19 guidelines.

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