The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday called for strict implementation of COVID-19 guidelines laid down by the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal during election campaign for the ongoing Legislative Assembly Elections in the State.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice TBN Radhakrishnan and Justice Arjit Banerjee said that callous, irresponsible and nonchalant attitude or behavior of certain persons should not be allowed to endanger the lives of others.
The Bench made clear that stringent and effective measures will have to be taken against those persons who flout the COVID-19 guidelines in place.
“Stringent measures must be taken against persons who fail, neglect or refuse to obey the COVID protocols. Callous, irresponsible and nonchalant attitude or behavior of some of the members of the society cannot be permitted to endanger the lives of the other members of the society. If the Administration finds that a person, whether engaged in election campaigning or otherwise, is flouting the COVID protocols, such person must be taken to task immediately.”
Towards this end, the Court directed all District Magistrates (DMs) to ensure that all guidelines in place are followed to the maximum extent.
The aid of State Police too can be utilised if necessary, the Court added.
“The District Magistrates of all the districts in the State of West Bengal shall ensure that all the guidelines laid down by the Election Commission of India and the Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal, adverted to hereinabove, are strictly implemented in their true letter and spirit, if necessary, with the aid of the police authorities. We are dealing with an extraordinary situation and this calls for extraordinary measures. It is in public interest that the Administration must ensure that all the COVID protocols are strictly adhered to by all concerned including those engaged in election campaigning activities,” the Court said.
The Court was hearing two public interest litigation petitions by public spirited citizens expressing their concern about people not adhering to the COVID protocol while participating in election campaigns which they claimed could cause serious spike in COVID-19 cases in West Bengal.
The Court in its order deemed it fit to emphasize the importance of wearing face masks, using hand sanitizers and maintaining social distancing at all times.
Further, the Bench directed the administration to keep a check against large congregations, and to ensure that public awareness on the said directions through distribution of pamphlets is done religiously.
With regard to social distancing, the DMs may also resort to the provisions of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, added the Court.
“This is absolutely necessary to avert a deadly disaster that is staring at our faces in the form of possible galloping rise in COVID-19 cases,” the Court said.
The Bench also proceeded to add a word of request to the members of all political parties and candidates, contesting in the Assembly Elections, to ensure that at every gathering, all persons present wear masks and maintain the safe distancing norms.
“We are sure that the contesting candidates and their aides and associates who are all responsible citizens of the country, would realize the enormous gravity of the situation and encourage all concerned to unfailingly observe the COVID rules in the interest of all concerned,” the Court said.
The Court was apprised of different guidelines issued by ECI, on September 21, 2020 and February 26, 2021 respectively, governing the conduct of political parties during election campaigns for the upcoming legislative assembly elections.
The petitioners had contended that the Election Commission itself is aware that the COVID guidelines are being flouted by the people engaged in election campaigning. Thus, the Election Commission should take all necessary steps for strict enforcement of the COVID guidelines, submitted the petitioner.
On the other hand, the ECI submitted before the Court that everything necessary is being done to ensure that the COVID guidelines are adhered to by the people engaged in election campaigning.
The matter will be next heard on April 19.