Andhra HC suspends elections to block, zilla parishads scheduled for Thursday
The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Tuesday issued interim orders suspending the elections to the mandal (block) parishads and zilla parishads in the state, which are scheduled to be held on Thursday (April 8). The High Court cited insufficient time for the enforcement of the model code of conduct for its decision.
A single-judge bench of the High Court, comprising Justice U Durga Prasada Rao, gave the orders after hearing a batch of petitions filed by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Jana Sena Party.
Justice Rao agreed with the contention of the petitioners that the state election commission (SEC) had not followed the Supreme Court orders directing that the model code of conduct should be brought into force at least four weeks before the polling date.
The HC ordered that the notification issued by newly-appointed SEC Neelam Sawhney on April 1, and all the actions taken thereafter, be withheld. The court did not accept the SEC’s argument that the four-week gap between the notification and polling date for enforcement of the model code of conduct was only a suggestion and not a compulsion.
Justice Rao posted the case to April 15 for further hearing and directed the SEC to file a counter by then. It also asked the SEC to follow the Supreme Court guidelines on the enforcement of the model code of conduct for four weeks before the polling date.
An official in the state government said the SEC was contemplating challenging Justice Rao’s interim order by filing an emergency petition before a division bench late in the evening or Wednesday morning.
Sawhney, who replaced Nimmgadda Ramesh Kumar as the SEC on April 1, announced the schedule for the conduct of mandal parishad territorial constituencies (MPTCs) and zilla parishad territorial constituencies (ZPTCs) within hours of taking charge.
As per the schedule, the polling will be held on April 8 and the results will be declared on April 10. Since the polling process commenced in March 2020, before it was postponed due to the outbreak of Covid-19, there was no need for the issuance of fresh notification, Sawhney said.
In all, there are 660 ZPTCs and 9,984 MPTCs in Andhra Pradesh, of which as many as 126 ZPTCs and 2,363 MPTCs were elected unanimously during the beginning of the election process in March 2020. As per the schedule announced on April 1, the campaigning came to an end by 4 pm on Tuesday.
The opposition parties found fault with the SEC for hurriedly announcing the schedule without following the SC guidelines on the model code of conduct. The TDP said it would boycott the elections, alleging the ruling YSR Congress party of trying to bulldoze the election process with the help of the SEC and the police machinery.