Blaming the Election Commission of India for the spread of COVID-19 second wave in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, which went to the polls on April 6, the Madras High Court on Monday observed that the poll body officials should probably be booked for “murder charges”.
The court further warned that it would consider postponing the counting of votes scheduled for May 2.
A bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy wondered if the ECI officials were on some other planet when political parties had undertaken massive Assembly election rallies ignoring COVID-19 safety protocol despite judicial orders.
“You have been the most irresponsible institution in the last few months. You are the only institution singularly responsible for the situation we are facing today,” the Chief Justice remarked in open court.
Passing a written order later in the day, the bench said the ECI was unable to ensure adherence to COVID-19 protocol during campaigning despite repeated observations made by the court, “like a broken record,” in the postscript of almost every order on an election related case.
“The significance of adhering to such protocol may have been lost on the Election Commission, going by the silence on the part of the poll body, as campaigning and rallies were conducted without distancing norms being maintained and in wanton disregard of other requirements of the protocol,” the court said. The poll body should have come up with strict safety measures at least for counting of votes.
“At no cost should the counting result in being a catalyst for a further surge, politics or no politics, and whether the counting takes place in a staggered manner or is deferred,” the judges said in the order. “Public health is of paramount importance, and it is distressing that constitutional authorities have to be reminded in such regard. It is only when the citizen survives that he enjoys the other rights that this democratic republic guarantees unto him. The situation is now one of survival and protection and everything else comes thereafter,” it added.
During the hearing in the open court, the judges observed said that public health was of paramount importance, but it was distressing to note that constitutional authorities had to be reminded of it.
Expressing displeasure over the ECI having turned a blind eye to the need to protect public health, the Chief Justice wondered how the poll body permitted political parties to undertake massive rallies with the participants not wearing face masks or adhering to physical distancing norms.
The court warned the ECI that it would not hesitate to stall the counting of votes scheduled for May 2, and ordering postponement of counting to June or July, if a blueprint on the maintenance of COVID-protocol at the counting centres was not produced before the court by April 30.
The bench was hearing a writ petition filed by Transport Minister and AIADMK leader M R Vijayabhaskar, who contested from the Karur seat, seeking a direction to the poll body to adopt stringent measures to ensure fair counting of votes in his constituency.