Andhra govt rejects local body poll schedule, sets up face off with SEC
The Andhra Pradesh government on Wednesday rejected the proposal of the state election commission (SEC) to conduct elections to urban and rural local bodies in the state in February citing the possibility of spread of Covid-19.
Chief secretary Neelam Sawhney wrote to state election commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar saying there was no possibility of conducting elections to local bodies at this stage, when the state was witnessing high number of active Covid-19 cases and the spread to rural areas had been a matter of grave concern.
Ramesh Kumar on Tuesday announced that elections to gram panchayats, block parishads, zilla parishads and municipalities would be held in February, since the intensity of Covid-19 had come down in the state due to effective measures taken by the state government.
He pointed out that elections were being held in various other states without any hassles and even in Telangana, elections were being held to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. “Holding elections is a constitutional necessity. It is also required to secure funds from the Centre under finance commission guidelines for the development of panchayat raj bodies,” he said.
The chief secretary, however, dismissed Ramesh Kumar’s argument. “The fact of the matter is that the entire district administration including the police continue to be actively involved in the Covid-19 containment measures,” she said.
She also pointed out that it was not correct to compare the Covid-19 situation in Andhra Pradesh with other states, where elections were being conducted, as various states have followed different strategies to deal with the pandemic and have been affected differently.
“Hence, we may not let down our guard particularly as the Government of India has warned the states to be wary of the cold/winter months. We cannot afford to have another surge having already lost 6,890 human lives,” the chief secretary said.
She suggested that as and when the situation becomes conducive for the conduct of elections to local bodies, the state government would immediately inform the SEC regarding its preparedness.
Sawhney also found fault with the SEC for deciding to hold a video conference with the district collectors on the conduct of elections in February. “It is not necessary at present to review the preparedness for conduct of elections,” the chief secretary added.
Following the letter from the chief secretary, Ramesh Kumar went to Raj Bhavan to take up the matter with Governor Biswabhushan Harichandan. “The SEC complained to the Governor about lack of cooperation from the state government in the smooth conduct of elections to local bodies,” an official in the SEC familiar with the development said.
The Jagan Mohan Reddy government has been in confrontation with the SEC, ever since the latter abruptly postponed the process of elections to local bodies in March amid Covid-19 pandemic.
The chief minister directly accused Ramesh Kumar of postponing the elections in collusion with Chandrababu Naidu because both belonged to the same caste. On April 10, the Jagan government removed Ramesh Kumar from the SEC post through an ordinance reducing the tenure of the SEC from five to three years and appointed a retired judge in his place.
Ramesh Kumar challenged the ordinance in the high court, which struck down the same on May 29. The state government moved the SC challenging the high court order and after prolonged hearings, the SC upheld the high court judgment on July 31 and asked the government to reinstate Ramesh Kumar as the SEC.