The Election Commission on Friday urged the Madras High Court to restrain the media from reporting on its oral criticisms of the poll panel, NDTV reported.
On April 26, the Madras High Court made scathing remarks about the manner in which the Election Commission of India had conducted the recent Assembly polls in four states. Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee said the Election Commission was singularly responsible for the second wave of Covid-19 ripping through the country.
“Were you on another planet when election rallies were held?” the court had asked the commission. “Your officers should be booked on murder charges probably.”
The poll panel said it was aggrieved by media reports on these “murder charges” remarks. “These reports have tarnished the image of the Election Commission of India as an independent constitutional agency that is entrusted with the constitutional responsibility of conducting elections,” it claimed in a petition.
It also noted that a police complaint was filed against an Election Commission official in West Bengal after these observations. The panel was referring to the complaint filed by the wife of Trinamool Congress candidate Kajal Sinha who died of Covid-19 on April 25. Sinha is among four politicians, contesting the West Bengal Assembly elections, who succumbed to the disease within a span of 10 days.
Sinha’s wife, Nandita Sinha, accused Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain and other officials of the poll panel of “careless and negligent” behaviour, which caused her husband’s death. Nandita Sinha’s police complaint alleged that the Election Commission had “self-serving blind motives” as the country dealt with the coronavirus crisis.
“No one must be permitted to report on the proceedings of this court that are not borne out by the record, especially when the detailed order is made available,” the commission told the High Court in its petition. “There was no occasion for this court to make such observations since the campaigning in Tamil Nadu ended back in April 4.”
While the country battled with a record surge in Covid-19 cases for days during the second wave and hospitals ran out of beds and oxygen, politicians were holding election rallies attended by thousands with little evidence of masks or physical distancing.
In West Bengal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah held gigantic rallies until last week, when the Election Commission finally banned all roadshows and limited gatherings to 500 people amid the worsening situation.
After the fourth round of elections in West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had announced that it will not organise big election rallies for the remaining phases. Congress MP Rahul Gandhi cancelled his rallies in West Bengal and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also decided to hold smaller election meetings. Shah, however, said that it was not right to link the surge in coronavirus cases in India to elections.
The Madras High Court is not the only High Court that had taken up the problem of Covid-19 protocols being flouted during the Assembly polls. Since the second week of April, the Calcutta High Court has been asking the commission to ensure strict adherence to pandemic norms. It even said that election officials would be held personally responsible for violations.
Over the last few weeks, several High Courts in the country have taken up petitions, sometimes of their own accord, relating to the government’s inadequate response to the second wave of the pandemic. Of particular note are proceedings in the Bombay and Delhi High Courts, which intervened to ensure the supply of oxygen to hospitals and availability of antiviral drugs for Covid-19 patients.
India on Friday registered 3,86,452 coronavirus cases, pushing the overall count of infections to 1,87,62,976 since the pandemic first broke out in India in January 2020. This is the highest ever single-day rise in cases reported by any country so far, and the ninth consecutive day when India has recorded more than 3 lakh cases. With 3,498 deaths, the toll climbed to 2,08,330.