EC Defends Itself, Says States’ Job to Enforce COVID Safety Norms

The EC noted that the enforcement has to be ensured by the SDMA authorities.

3 min read
The Election Commission of India on Tuesday, 27 April, defended itself after being pulled up by the Madras High Court for poor implementation of COVID norms.

The Election Commission of India on Tuesday, 27 April, defended itself after being pulled up by the Madras High Court for poor implementation of COVID norms during the elections that has significantly contributed to India’s second wave.

The EC said, “Enforcement of COVID-19 measures is the responsibility assigned to the State Disaster Management Authority (like lockdown, restriction/curtailment on public gatherings, etc) and its officers under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.”

Hours after chiding the Election Commission and saying it should be ‘booked for murder’ for allowing poll rallies, the Madras High Court in its order stated that at no cost can counting become a catalyst for a further surge.

Compared to the strongly-worded rebuke during the hearing on Monday morning, 26 April, the order seemed milder and accused the Election Commission of "wanton disregard" and "silence" during campaigning carried out without following COVID protocols.

The EC noted how the Commission had always emphasised that the state authorities shall ensure COVID compliance in the matter of public gatherings etc for campaign purposes. It noted that enforcement has to be ensured by the SDMA.

It added that the State Disaster Management Authority didn’t stop public gatherings during this period. It said the EC had directed all to adhere to the COVID norms, and if violated be booked under the DM Act, 2005. The EC clarified that, “On no occasion, the Commission takes over the task of SDMA for enforcement of COVID-19 instructions.”

Putting the blame on the Tamil Nadu government, the EC said the state had “ordered lockdown restrictions in view of COVID second surge (assessment of this is in the domain of NDMA/SDMA or concerned state government only) from 20 April 2021, 16 days after the campaign period was over in the state”.

The EC noted that on 26 February 2021, when it announced the poll in five states and Union Territories, “Fortunately, the second wave of COVID-19 was yet to be fully visible that time.” It clarified that it had submitted to various HCs like Calcutta and Madhya Pradesh that polling was conducted with “good electoral participation with full compliance of norms by all concerned”.

The Commission is in touch with state/UT chief secretaries, health secretaries concerned and the chief electoral officers to ensure that all COVID norms are followed.

“The Commission will comply with all directions of the HC and will apprise the HC of all steps already taken by the ECI for free, fair and safe election,” the EC submitted.

The EC has now taken a few important decisions to curb the spread of COVID.

  • No victory procession after the counting on 2 May 2021 shall be permissible.
  • Not more than two persons shall be allowed to accompany the winning candidate or his/her authorised representative to receive the certificate of election from the returning officer concerned.

The previous hearing

A bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, while hearing a plea moved by Tamil Nadu Transport Minister MR Vijayabhaskhar, said:

“You (EC) are the only institution responsible for the situation of COVID and should probably be booked on murder charges for not preventing political parties from misuse of COVID-19 protocol. You have been singularly lacking any kind of exercise of authority. You have not taken measures against political parties holding rallies despite the court repeatedly saying ‘Maintain COVID protocols’.”

The minister had petitioned the court seeking direction to the Election Commission to follow a slew of measures in ensuring fairness during the counting of votes on 2 May for Karur constituency, where he had contested the elections as an AIADMK candidate. There were 77 candidates in the fray at Karur constituency.

"We assure you that we will stop counting if we do not find before 2 May a blueprint on how proper maintenance of COVID protocol is assured so that this state does not succumb to the idiosyncrasies any further," the bench said.

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