Hours after its comment that the Election Commission “should probably be booked for murder” for not stopping political rallies for the state elections amid a Covid spike, the Madras High Court said in its order that “at no cost can counting become a catalyst for a further surge”. The order, though milder compared to the rebuke in the morning, accuses the election body of “wanton disregard” and “silence” on campaigns carried out without distancing and other safety rules.
The Election Commission could not ensure that political parties adhered to Covid protocol during their campaign for the state elections, said the High Court.
“Despite court’s repeated orders like a broken record Covid protocol significance may have been lost on the Election Commission. Public health is of paramount importance and it is distressing that constitutional authorities have to be reminded in such regard,” the court said in its order.
Counting should take place only with adherence to sanitisation, hygiene, masks and distancing norms, the Madras High Court ruled.
Earlier today, during arguments, the High Court said the Election Commission was singularly responsible for the second wave of Covid and had threatened to stop the counting of votes on Sunday if a “blueprint” is not in place.
The Election Commission will react after it sees the order, sources say.
“Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of COVID-19. Your officers should be booked on murder charges probably,” the court told the Election Commission.
“Were you on another planet when the election rallies were held,” Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee had questioned.
The High Court also asked for a plan to enforce Covid rules on May 2 – the day of the results – by Friday. Without it, the counting could also be stopped, said the High Court.
The High Court ruled on a petition by Tamil Nadu Transport Minister MR Vijayabaskar seeking Covid compliance during counting in Karur, from where he contested the election.
Covid cases steadily rose alongside elections in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. Today, India reported 3.52 lakh cases and 2,812 deaths in 24 hours.
The Election Commission stopped roadshows and rallies and limited public meetings to 500 people last Thursday, with just three more rounds of voting left in Bengal’s record eight-phase election and the process completed in all other states.
Shortly before the election body’s order, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that he was cancelling his campaign visit to Bengal the next day because of a Covid meeting. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who also restricted her campaign soon after, questioned why the Election Commission had waited till the PM’s announcement to impose Covid curbs on campaigning.
She also hit out at the Election Commission for rejecting her repeated appeals to club the last few rounds of voting in Bengal to reduce the virus spread.