The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Election Commission of India to decide on a petition that sought an early start to polls in the upcoming phases of the Lok Sabha elections as Ramzan begins, Bar and Bench reported. The religious month of Ramzan, which Muslims observe by fasting, is expected to begin on May 5. Three more phases of General Elections are left during the month – on May 6, May 12 and May 19.

The petitioners asked the court to direct the poll body to start the voting process two hours earlier, around 5 am, instead of 7 am. Elections in the first four phases of the Lok Sabha elections began at 7 am.

The petition also cited the current weather conditions to say voters may find it difficult to step out during the peak heat conditions, according to Live Law.

“During this month, a large percentage of the voting population, i.e. adult Muslims, both men and women, young and old alike will be fasting and will not be consuming food or water starting approximately 1.5 hour before dawn till dusk every day,” the petition said. “In this intense heat, it will be very difficult for Muslim voters to queue up at the polling booths during the day in the intense heat to exercise their franchise. During Ramadan, most practising Muslims stay up / wake up for an early morning meal called Sehri and sleep after the morning Fajr prayer. Thereafter, they avoid going out in the heat to the extent possible to avoid thirst, dehydration and the possibility of a heat stroke.”

The bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna asked the Election Commission to pass an appropriate order.

Some political parties had triggered a row in March, soon after the election dates were announced, over the timing of the polls as they may clash with Ramzan. The Trinamool Congress had claimed that the timing of the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal would inconvenience people during Ramzan. Samajwadi Party Maharashtra President Abu Asim Azmi had also voiced similar concerns.

However, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi had rubbished the claims. “We cook, work, clean and take care of our families while fasting,” he had tweeted. “It’s an insult to Muslims to say that Ramzan will affect our voting.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party had also said it was unnecessary for political parties to drag Ramzan into elections.