The Supreme Court on Saturday refused to defer the counting of votes for the local body elections in Uttar Pradesh, even as it expressed concern about the grave coronavirus situation in the state, Live Law reported.

A division bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Hrishikesh Roy allowed the counting to take place as per schedule on May 2 based on the “solemn assurances” given by the Uttar Pradesh State Election Commission that it will take all necessary precautions during the process.

The court was hearing a special leave petition challenging an order of the Allahabad High Court passed on April 7, refusing to defer the local body elections, along with a writ petition seeking to delay the counting process. Polling for the four-phased panchayat elections in the state ended on April 29.

Advocate Shoeb Alam, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that the counting centres can turn out to be “beds of infections”. The petitioners told the court that several teachers, who have been assigned counting duty, have expressed apprehensions performing their roles in the midst of the pandemic.

Notably, a teachers’ unions in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday also submitted a report to the state election commission, which said that 577 educators and support staff had died while on poll duty during the panchayat elections. Dinesh Chandra Sharma, the president of Uttar Pradesh Shikshak Mahasangh, said the association had sent a list of the teachers from 71 districts who died during the elections.

During the hearing on Saturday, the Supreme Court had initially questioned the need for conducting the counting exercise amid a pandemic.

“Despite the situation, you need to go ahead?” the court asked the state poll panel, according to NDTV. “Can you have it after two weeks so that medical facilities can be improved? Heavens will not fall if counting is deferred by three weeks.”

The Uttar Pradesh Election Commission, however, refused to make any changes to the schedule. “We have taken a decision to go ahead,” it said, adding that it had taken “sufficient safeguards” to conduct the counting.

Senior advocate Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the state Election Commission, told the court that a curfew will be imposed around the counting centres and that no victory rallies will be allowed in Uttar Pradesh after the results are declared. Also, senior bureaucrat of the rank of principal secretary will be assigned to each district to oversee that all Covid-related protocols are being followed.

The Supreme Court recorded the poll panel’s statement and said that it was no longer inclined to interfere with the counting process. “We reject the request for deferring the counting by recording the submissions of the SEC that all protocols will be observed in letter and spirit”, the bench said in the order.