Andhra Pradesh High Court clears decks for conducting panchayat polls from February 5


VIJAYAWADA: Clearing the decks for the conduct of elections to local bodies in the State as per schedule, a division bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court on Thursday set aside the order of the single judge suspending the notification issued by the State Election Commission (SEC) to hold polls in four phases from February 5.

​The AP government is said to have moved the Supreme Court challenging the High Court verdict.

On January 11, the High Court suspended the notification issued by the SEC on January 8 to hold panchayat elections in the State in four phases in February, following a petition moved by the government. The SEC appealed against the verdict before a division bench, which after hearing the arguments of the both sides, issued orders on Thursday.

While the state argued that the atmosphere was not conducive to hold the elections in view of the Covid-19 vaccination drive, the SEC pointed out that coronavirus is under control in AP and it is not so alarming.

The division bench of Chief Justice Arup Kumar Goswami and Justice C Praveen Kumar, while giving its verdict, said the conduct of panchayat elections and public health are of equal importance. The conduct of elections to local bodies is a constitutional obligation and the court cannot intervene in the notification issued by the SEC for holding elections, the bench said.

It asked the government to take steps to ensure that the Covid vaccination process is not hindered due to the local body elections. The bench also pointed out that the Supreme Court did not allow postponement of local body elections in Kerala, Karnataka and Rajasthan and also issued guidelines that courts cannot intervene once the SEC issues notification for elections. Considering these aspects, the bench refused to intervene in the notification issued by the State Election Commission and set aside the order of the single judge.

Soon after the court verdict, State Election Commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar, in a press statement, said that the State government had submitted an undertaking to the division bench of the High Court that they shall do ‘everything possible for holding gram panchayat elections and shall not seek change of dates.’

“The SEC is going ahead with the gram panchayat elections as per the already notified schedule. The elections will take place in four phases — February 5, 9, 13 and 17,’’ the SEC said, adding that the Model Code of Conduct has come into effect after the pronouncement of the court verdict.

The SEC said public representatives shall not be associated in distribution of benefits that will influence the electorate and the Chief Secretary has been asked to inform the same to the district collectors. The SEC said it will hold a meeting with the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police and District Collectors and Superintendents of Police regarding poll arrangements at the earliest. The government should take necessary measures for the safety of poll staff as well as voters. On the law and order issue, the SEC sought the cooperation of all the stakeholders for the smooth conduct of the election process.
While the Opposition parties welcomed the High Court verdict, the ruling YSRC and employee unions said they will knock the doors of the Supreme Court.

Welcoming the High Court giving green signal for the conduct of panchayat elections, Opposition Leader N Chandrababu Naidu said the YSRC leaders should realise that judges may change, but justice will remain. The ruling party resorted to election irregularities and that was why 25 per cent unanimous results were seen in the MPTC and ZPTC elections. There are checks and balances in democracy. Those getting majority votes will come to power and they will take oath to discharge their responsibilities abiding by the Constitution. But under the administration of this maniac (Jagan), they are doing whatever they want. His attitude appears that he only appoints members to the Assembly and Parliament in future,’’ he said.

The Chief Minister and his party leaders were trying to use rowdyism to intimidate all sections of voters. If they want to rig the elections all the time, then they would surely face the people’s revolt, he said.On the other hand, stating that the government will knock on the doors of the Supreme Court, advisor to government Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy found fault with SEC Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar for trying to hold the elections before the end of his tenure unmindful of the risk to the voters.

“The WHO and Centre are repeatedly telling that elderly people have to take extra care. Keeping in view the public health, the State government had opposed the conduct of the local body elections,’’ he said.

Government moves SC

The Andhra Pradesh government is said to have moved the Supreme Court challenging the High Court verdict of setting aside the order of the single judge suspending the notification issued by the SEC to hold polls in four phases from February 5.