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SC gives green signal to UP Panchayat elections counting; directs State to impose curfew till counting goes on

After conducting a hearing on a Saturday, the Supreme Court allowed the counting of the Uttar Pradesh Panchayat elections to take place.

The Bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Hrishikesh Roy directed the State of West Bengal to impose a curfew for the period of the counting. The Court also made it clear that no victory rallies will be allowed to take place.

We decline to interfere in these petitions and for the same reason also with the fresh writ petition filed before this Court, while recording the assurance given by the State Government through learned counsel as well as the State Election Commission, Uttar Pradesh that necessary measures have been put in place in terms of the guidelines issued from time to time, including the recent Notifications dated 29.04.2021 and 30.04.2021 issued by the State Election Commission,” reads the order.

Appearing for the UP government and State Election Commission, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati submitted the measures taken by the State Election Commission to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.

In response, Justice Khanwilkar asked,

“The evolving situation is dynamic and what you thought sometime back may not be relevant. Have you assessed the current situation?”

Justifying the need to go ahead with counting amid the pandemic, ASG Bhati said,

“It’s a choice between devil and the deep sea. We have felt it is imperative and there is deficit of grassroots governance. That’s why we have decided to go ahead with the counting. The rural committees play a crucial role in maintaining COVID-19 precautions in such areas. We are also bound by the High Court’s directions.”

The Bench then asked,

“Can’t the counting wait for two weeks so that medical infrastructure improves and situation also improves?”

“Surge is still ahead of us and we have to take the decision with regard to Disaster Management Act,” was Bhati’s response.

The Court eventually noted in its order,

The operating protocol mentioned therein is being and will be adhered to by all the stake holders as well as duty holders without any exception. It is stated across the bar that additionally strict curfew would be imposed in areas as may be notified by the concerned authorities, in particular, in and around the counting centres and will be continued until the counting process of the concerned counting centre is completed in all respects including declaration of results,” said the top court.

As per Supreme Court this will ensure “that only the candidates and their authorized representatives would be able to visit/enter the counting centres and gathering of general public is avoided.”

Further it has been ordered that “no victory rally will be permitted throughout the State of Uttar Pradesh after the results are announced or during the counting process is in progress.”

This assurance is placed on record. In addition, it is agreed by learned counsel for the State Election Commission that appropriate changes will be made in the Notification dated 29.04.2021 in Clause 1, namely, in place of ‘or’, it will be read as ‘and’, so that both the conditions must be fulfilled by the candidates and the representatives visiting the counting centres,” reads the order every candidate has to undergo either RT PCR or antigen test entering the centre.

While disposing of the matter, the Court said that the parties are at liberty to approach the Allahabad High Court in case of issues which may arise later.

The top court has also “placed on record the undertaking given by the State Election Commission through counsel that the CCTV recording at the designated counting areas and centres will be done and duly preserved.

Further, the court noted that the State Election Commission has also agreed to notify the names of persons who will be in-charge of the concerned counting centres and who will be “made accountable for any lapse regarding the compliance of the guidelines and the assurances recorded herein, at the given centres”.

That designated official shall be the Nodal Officer to whom the candidates contesting the election or anyone interested in giving suggestion for improvising the facilities in an around the counting centres can be pursued,” states the order.

The court has further clarified that norms specified for candidates and authorized representatives of the candidates in Notification dated 29.04.2021 to produce RT-PCR or Rapid Antigen Test report or Covid-19 vaccination completion report would also apply to officials deployed or entering at the concerned counting centres as in the case of the candidates and their authorized representatives.

Polling for the four-phased panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh ended on Thursday. Results will be out tomorrow along with the state election results for Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry.

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