The Calcutta High Court on Friday emphasised that the directions issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on the maintenance of COVID-19 protocol during the ongoing West Bengal Assembly elections ought to be strictly followed by the public and political parties (Nitish Debnath v. Election Commission of India & Ors.)
The Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee was dealing with a batch of petitions raised concern over the non-adherence of COVID-19 protocol during election rallies and allied issues.
“We are sure that the Election Commission of India is steering its way forward in the proper direction and the action taken so far, as reported in the latest affidavit, which we have taken on record today, shows that the Election Commission will further push forward requisite action to obtain obedience to its direction. Any restrictive governance imposed by the Election Commission of India as regards public behaviour as regards the protective protocol in relation to Covid management shall be strictly followed and abided by the people. It will be within the jurisdiction of the competent authorities to enforce that masking, social distancing, etc. as required by the Covid protocol, are strictly adhered to and enforced in the State of West Bengal“, the Court has observed in its latest order.
On Friday, the Court took on record affidavits filed by the Election Commission of India and the Chief Electoral Officer on the issue, which included information on the circulars and orders passed by the ECI to ensure the maintenance of COVID-19 safety norms during the ongoing election season.
These measures included,
- An order passed on April 13, pursuant to which a meeting was held with all political parties on April 16 wherein emphasis was given on the strict implementation of COVID-19 guidelines and protocols. The meeting was attended by several political parties, the majority of whom are participating the Assembly elections. The representatives of all political parties assured that they would abide by the COVID protocols as per the guidelines set by the ECI.
- An order restraining political rallies, public meetings, and street plays after 7 pm was issued with effect from April 16.
- On April 21 another order was passed intimating that if the COVID-19 protocol is not complied with, action would be taken under the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Diseases Act and permission for further campaigns would be cancelled.
- By an order dated April 24, the ECI clarified that public meetings would be limited to 500 and subject to compliance of COVID-19 safety norms; that road shows, pad yatras, bike rallies etc. are prohibited and that earlier permissions granted stand withdrawn or modified.
The Election Commission has been taking all possible steps to discharge its Constitutional obligations so that elections can be completed while strictly following necessary covid protocols and guidelines, it was submitted. No stone will be left unturned to enforce the COVID protocol, the Court was told further.
The Court, in turn, observed that the Election Commission is vested with ample authority to oversee matters connected to the elections, and that neither the State nor the Union government can override such powers of the Commission for the smooth conduct of the election.
“There is no way for any department or institution of governance to excuse itself from obeying the commands of the Election Commission of India and not complying and cooperating with the Election Commission of India’s directions. This shall be taken as part of the mandatory command of this Court in support of what the Election Commission is carrying forward,“ the Court added before adjourning the matter for the time-being.
It will be taken up next on Monday.