The Kerala High Court on Wednesday refused to stay the state government’s decision to hold its oath-taking ceremony physically, reported Bar and Bench. It, however, urged the state government to reduce the number of participants for the function.

A bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly was hearing a plea filed by non-governmental organisation Chikitsaneethi seeking a stay on the physical oath-taking ceremony in view of the coronavirus situation in the state. Pinarayi Vijayan will take the oath of the chief minister of the state at 3 pm on Thursday in Thiruvananthapuram, reported India Today.

During the hearing, the High Court cited similar ceremonies held in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu while declining the petitioner’s prayer.

Though states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, with more number of legislators in the Assembly have performed the swearing-in ceremony with [a] lesser number, Government of Kerala, a forerunner in Covid-19 management, should restrict the number to the maximum to avoid the widespread Covid-19.

— Kerala High Court

The High Court asked the political parties to take a call on whether all the MLAs are needed to be present in the swearing-in ceremony. The bench said the families of the MLAs invited to the ceremony can refrain from attending and watch it from their residence.

In its plea, Chikitsaneethi had said physical swearing-in with a large gathering was not necessary amid the lockdown imposed by the state government. It said that the government did not have a legal obligation to hold such an event.

The NGO said that the decision to hold the function amid the lockdown has triggered a controversy. However, the High Court said that it was not inclined to interfere with the government’s decision.

It had asked for the state government’s response on the matter by 1.45 pm on Wednesday. The order was passed after hearing the matter further.

Earlier, another petition was filed before the Supreme Court against the government’s decision to hold the function. The plea by activist KM Shahjahan had said that the ceremony could end up being a “super spreader” event.

The activist had sought directions to the Kerala government to abide by the Covid -19 protocol and ban all gatherings and protests. It had also asked the Supreme Court to direct the Union government and all the states to issue a uniform Standard Operating Procedure to ban all kinds of public gathering with over 50 people for one month.

Meanwhile, Kerala government officials have said that the swearing-in ceremony will be held in strict adherence to the coronavirus-related protocol. The government said it expects up to 350 people to attend the ceremony, according to India Today.

A negative Covid-19 test report will be mandatory for attending the function. The Opposition, United Democratic Front, said it will not attend the swearing-in ceremony in-person but virtually.

The new Cabinet will have 21 ministers, including the chief minister. This time, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) committee has dropped former state Health Minister KK Shailaja from the new Cabinet. Shailaja, who has been lauded for her handling of the Covid-19 and Nipah outbreaks in Kerala, has been nominated as the CPI(M)’s chief whip in the next Assembly.

The CPI(M) has said that dropping Shailaja from the new Cabinet was a “political and organisational” decision.