MP High Court frowns upon large political rallies amid Covid-19 pandemic
The High Court observed that right to health and life of a common man is comparatively more exalted, sacred and precious compared to the right to canvassing and campaigning for a candidate.Updated: Oct 21, 2020, 18:08 IST
The Gwalior bench of the Madhya Pradesh high court on Tuesday restrained district magistrates in 9 districts from giving permission to any political party or its candidate for any physical public meeting irrespective of its size if there is a possibility of a virtual election campaign.
The districts include Gwalior, Guna, Morena, Bhind, Ashok Nagar, Datia, Shivpuri, Sheopur and Vidisha.
The court which had been displeased by the conduct of political parties and candidates for assembly bypoll campaign, observed that right to health and life of a common man is comparatively more exalted, sacred and precious compared to the right to canvassing and campaigning for a candidate.
“Thus, the right of a candidate to campaign has to yield to the right to health and life of the electorate,” a two-judge bench comprising justice Sheel Nagu and justice Rajeev Kumar Shrivastava said in an interim order.
The court observed that unfortunately, political parties are doing everything to draw the common man out of the security and safety of his home to become a part of a congregation “to achieve their ulterior motive of gaining popularity to obtain votes, and leaving gullible and innocent common man to go home carrying Covid-19 virus with him and transmit the disease to his family members and friends”.
“The district magistrates of all nine districts falling within the territorial jurisdiction of this court are restrained from giving permission to any candidate/political party for holding physical congregations of any number of people unless the political party applying for such a congregation is able to satisfy the district magistrate concerned that conduction of a virtual election campaign is not possible and the district magistrate passes a speaking order recording reasons of being satisfied of the inability of candidate/political parties to conduct virtual campaigning,” the order said.
The court said the district magistrate’s permission to conduct the physical meeting ‘shall become effective only after the Election Commission of India (ECI) approves the same in writing’.
At the same time, the court said, holding of physical congregation even if permitted by the DM and ECI can take place only after the political party/candidate concerned deposits money with the DM, which is sufficient to purchase double the number of masks and sanitizers required for protecting and sanitizing the number of people expected in the congregation.
The candidate will have to file an affidavit that “he shall be personally liable to distribute masks and sanitizers to all the members of the congregation before the meeting/congregation starts,” the order said.
The interim order passed is the third one from the court on a petition filed by a Gwalior-based advocate Ashish Pratap Singh who in his petition and subsequent interlocutory application pointed out gross violations of Covid-19 safety norms by political party leaders ahead of bypolls to 28 legislative assembly constituencies in the state slated for November 3. The court appointed three advocates as amicus curie to submit their own reports on the election meetings.
Earlier, the court had directed the collectors in these districts to invoke penal provisions of Disaster Management Act and Indian Penal Code not only against the defaulting members of the congregation who fail to follow the Covid-19 protocol but also against political/governmental/state or social functionaries in whose name or on whose behest and behalf the said congregation take place.
On being pointed out by the petitioner that FIRs were not lodged against Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar and state Congress president Kamal Nath despite the court’s previous orders, the court directed the collectors concerned to ensure registration of FIRs against the two political leaders for breach of Covid-19 protocol.
The court said instances pointed out in the past nearly 15 days gave a clear indication that functionaries, members of the political parties whether a common worker or the person at the helm, were taking no steps to avoid physical congregation.
“The common agenda of the political parties appears to be to conduct as many and as large a congregation as possible with the ultimate objective of gaining popularity during the election campaign. This obviously is done at the cost of health and lives of those gullible and innocent citizens of this country who come from lower strata of society and are unaware of the risk they incur to their lives by being a part of such congregations”, said the court.
Both the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress said they were studying the court’s latest order.
State Congress spokesperson Bhupendra Gupta said, “We are looking into the high court order. Election meetings are held to educate voters. Hence, restrictions on public meetings will limit the opportunities of the political parties to convey its policies and programmes to voters. We will see if we can make a prayer to the court to pass an order in consultation with ECI to make the campaigning a smooth one.”
State BJP spokesperson Rajneesh Agrawal said, “We are studying the court’s interim order. Hence, we can’t comment on it right now. However, till now there are no amended guidelines from the ECI. We are bound to follow the ECI guidelines in respect with elections. We will see if the ECI issues any fresh guidelines for elections.”