4 states write to EC for deferring by-elections amid Covid concerns
Elections to 56 assembly constituencies and one parliamentary constituency, including the eight which were deferred last month, are scheduled to be held from September.Updated: Aug 14, 2020 00:12 IST
Four states -- Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat -- have written to the election commission to defer the upcoming by-elections to the state assembly, citing rising Covid-19 cases and heavy rains, according to officials familiar with the matter.
Elections to 56 assembly constituencies and one parliamentary constituency, including the eight which were deferred last month, are scheduled to be held from September. So far, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has only held elections to some Rajya Sabha seats, and the assembly council of states, where voting is open to specialised electoral colleges rather than the general public.
According to the ECI officials cited above, the chief secretaries of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat, and the chief electoral officer (CEO) of Kerala, have written to the commission apprising it of the situation on the ground.
The by-polls are to be conducted across eight states, Tamil Nadu, Assam, UP, MP, Kerala, Gujarat, Haryana and Nagaland. A break-up of the same is not available.
The Kerala CEO has cited “heavy rains and floods” as the primary reasons for deferring the polls. Before writing the letter, he sought feedback from district magistrates in the state, said an EC official, referring to the letter. “Tthe people involved in the relief operations are the same who are likely to be involved in conducting the elections,” said an EC official who asked not to be named. “The deployment of election machinery is a potential hurdle.”
Kerala is getting heavy rains, leading to flooding, and the death toll in the Idukki landslide hit 55 on August 13.
The ECI official said that the Gujarat chief secretary has attached a detailed report from reputed health associations to apprise the commission of the rising Covid-19 cases in the state. He added that the commission is monitoring the situation closely and will take all reports into account before taking a final call. “The situation is dynamic and changing everyday. We will take a call on when to hold the bypolls at an appropriate time.”
According to the Health ministry, Gujarat had 57,421 cases as of August 13, while Madhya Pradesh had 31,239 cases and Haryana, 36,694. The situation across the country is worsening, with over 60,000 cases reported on Thursday.
A second ECI official, however, said that the bypolls would have no bearing on the assembly election scheduled to be held in Bihar later this year.
“Bypolls can be deferred, as in most cases there are only a few vacancies,” said the second official. “But the Bihar elections are on schedule at present. If we do not conduct the Bihar elections, president’s rule will have to be imposed in the state.” Polling in the state is due in November.
The Commission, on July 24, deferred bypolls to eight states till September 7 though the mandatory six-month period to conduct these elections has lapsed. Under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the commission is supposed to hold by-elections within six months of a seat getting vacated, either due to resignation or the death of a legislator. The six-month period has not yet lapsed for the other 48 other assembly seats and one parliamentary seat.
According to former chief election commissioner Vikram Sampath, the EC will evaluate the situation and take a call. “The rule is that the bypolls have to be held within six months,” said Sampath. “But there is a provision to postpone these polls. The EC holds a consultation with the Law Ministry and can defer them.”
Sampath added that there is no rule on how long these polls can be deferred, or what reasons can be cited to delay the polls.
“It is a judgement-based call,” said Sampath. “The commission will have to monitor the severity of the pandemic, and situation on the ground, and decide.”