ECI broad guidelines on polls challenged in Gujarat High Court
As per ECI guidelnes issued on Friday last, voters will be provided gloves while using EVMs and COVID-19 patients in quarantine will be allowed to vote in last hour of polling, among other measures
The broad guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India for holding polls during the coronavirus pandemic was on Monday challenged in the Gujarat High Court as being in "complete contravention" of a Union Ministry of Home Affairs circular that prohibits any large gathering.
As per a fresh set of guidelines issued by the ECI on Friday last, voters will be provided gloves while using EVMs and COVID-19 patients in quarantine will be allowed to vote in the last hour of polling, among other measures.
The submission against the ECI guidelines has been made in a draft amendment to a PIL filed earlier seeking postponement of yet-to-be-declared schedule for by-elections to eight assembly seats in Gujarat in view of the pandemic.
Petitioner Farsu Goklani said the ECI guidelines for conducting general and by-elections during the pandemic is in "complete contravention" of the circular issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on July 29.
The MHA circular strictly prohibits "social/ political/ ports/ entertainment/ academic/ cultural/ religious functions and other large congregations, Goklani said in the plea.
The petition has sought the ECI guidelines to be quashed also because, it claimed, the poll body did not consult the central government before issuing them.
It said as per the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the ECI can defer an election after consulting the central government, and if the latter certifies that it is difficult to hold the election.
The draft amendment to the PIL moved by the petitioner said the ECI guidelines were not in consonance with the July 29 order of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
"The risk of conducting elections following the prescribed guidelines from the EC in the middle of such a pandemic is much higher and is not worth taking," it said.
The matter is likely to come up for hearing on August 31 before the division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala.
In its response to the PIL, the ECI had told the HC early last week that it is assessing the COVID-19 situation, and will take appropriate decisions on whether to announce elections or defer them after following due process as prescribed in law.
The ECI had also said it was in the process of framing broad guidelines, for general election/by-elections during COVID-19, which were eventually issued on Friday (August 21).
The PIL has soughtpostponement of by-elections to eight assembly seats - Dhari, Abdasa, Limbdi, Gadhda, Dang, Karjan, Morbi and Kaprada - which fell vacant following resignation of sitting Congress MLAs.
As per the ECI guidelines, voters will be provided gloves while using EVMs and those in quarantine can vote in the last hour of polling.
Also, a separate set of guidelines would be issued for voters residing in areas notified as "containment zones", with the option of postal ballot for electors who are marked as persons with disabilities and those above 80 years of age.
Electors who are COVID-19 positive or are suspected of having the infection and in quarantine at home or at an institution can also exercise the postal ballot option, the ECI has said.