Madras HC declines to take up protests by EC, Centre about its criticism of poll process, COVID crisis

Court had made oral observations that ECI should probably be put up for murder charges for rallies held in violation of COVID-19 norms, and questioning what the Centre had been doing in past 14 months

Madras High Court
Madras High Court

NH Web Desk

With both the Centre and the Election Commission of India (ECI) airing concern on Friday that comments earlier made against them were ‘sensationalized’ by the media, the Madras High Court opined that the post mortem on such aspects can wait and that the focus, for now, is on the measures that can be put in place for COVID-19 management in the state.

The Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy made the observation while hearing the suo motu case concerning COVID-19 related issues in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

"Two aspects cannot be missed. First, is the Union's endeavour to indicate that surge in (COVID) numbers may be unexpected and prefatory measures have been taken for quite some time. Second aspect is the Election commission's concern about sensationalism. The post mortem on either count may have to wait particularly in light of immediate measures that may be put in place," the court said in its order passed on Friday.

Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the ECI, apprised the Court of various measures taken to ensure compliance with COVID-19

safety norms during the May 2 counting of votes of the Assembly elections.

In addition, he also urged the Court to consider issuing directions so that the media confines its reporting to observations made part of the Court's record in orders or judgments.

The submission was made in the wake of wide media reportage on the Court's April 26 oral observations that the ECI should probably be put up for murder charges in view of how election rallies were held in violation of COVID-19 safety norms.

In an affidavit, the ECI had contended that the said observation was made without giving the ECI an opportunity to explain its stance. The ECI had further submitted that media reports of the Court's oral comments had caused grave prejudice to the Commission.

Dwivedi submitted today that the media should be instructed not to sensationalize anything. He added that it has been a difficult task to conduct elections during this time. While so, some have people have lodged FIRs against election officials after the Court's oral observations were reported, he informed.

"Your observation is to spur us to act ... but FIRs are being registered all over the place... some protection may be granted...election officials are being portrayed as murders, denuding (their) authority," he submitted before the Court today.

The Bench, however, told the ECI that the "courts are there" to deal with any such matter.

Additional Solicitor General R Sankaranaraynan, representing the Central government, made submissions on how the Centre had take all steps it could to contain the pandemic.

"Till December 2020, the curve was flattening. By January, everything was fine. I distinctly remember, when UK flights came.. problem started in Kerala and Maharashtra.. that was when the surge was catalogued," he submitted.

He added that on January 5, the Union Health Secretary also wrote to Kerala, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh etc. to take steps to curb the surge in COVID cases. A similar letter was also sent to West Bengal when there was a surge. A high-level team was sent to Kerala to aid public health interventions for COVID-19 management, he added.

The submission was made in view of oral observations made by the Court on Thursday, questioning what the Centre had been doing in the past 14 months, given the COVID-19 situation that India is in presently.

With the Centre emphasising today that it had taken appropriate measures, Chief Justice Banerjee remarked, "Let us leave it. We do not perceive appropriate measures were taken.. that post mortem can be taken later... Let us focus on what we can do."

The matter was adjourned to May 5, when the Court reopens after summer vacation.

The Bench, however, clarified that it would be available to take up any urgent issues even during the vacation, upon prior notice being given to the concerned parties.

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