Physical rallies only if virtual not feasible: Madhya Pradesh HC
District magistrates should not permit political parties and candidates from holding physical meetings, irrespective of the size of the crowd, if they can campaign digitally in Gwalior, Guna, Morena, Bhind, Ashok Nagar, Datia, Shivpuri, Sheopur and Vidisha, the bench ruled.Updated: Oct 22, 2020, 02:50 IST
Voicing displeasure over the conduct of political parties and candidates at a time the coronavirus disease pandemic is raging, the Gwalior bench of the Madhya Pradesh high court has directed the administrators of nine districts in its jurisdiction to grant permissions for physical public rallies only if virtual meetings are not possible ahead of next month’s assembly bypolls.
The court also ordered that first information reports (FIRs) be lodged against Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar and state Congress president Kamal Nath for alleged breach of Covid-19 protocols.
District magistrates should not permit political parties and candidates from holding physical meetings, irrespective of the size of the crowd, if they can campaign digitally in Gwalior, Guna, Morena, Bhind, Ashok Nagar, Datia, Shivpuri, Sheopur and Vidisha, the bench ruled.
The right to health and life of ordinary people is more sacred and precious when set off against the right to campaign of candidates in an election, the court observed. “Thus, the right of candidates to campaign has to yield to the right to health and life of the electorate”, said the court in its interim order, passed on Tuesday but released on Wednesday.
Political parties are doing everything they can to draw the common man out of the security and safety of his/her home to become 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”, read the order.
Voting for 28 assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh bypolls will take place on November 3.
The high court’s interim order, passed by a bench of justices Sheel Nagu and Rajeev Kumar Shrivastava, said: “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 conduct 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 candidates/political parties to conduct virtual campaigning.”
The court said the district magistrate’s (DM) permission to conduct the physical meeting “shall become effective only after the Election Commission of India (ECI) approves the same in writing”.
Even if a physical congregation is permitted by the DM and the ECI, it can take place only after the political party/candidate deposits money with the DM that is sufficient to purchase double the number of masks and sanitisers required for protecting those attending the event. The candidate will have to file an affidavit that “he shall be personally liable to distribute masks and sanitisers to all the members of the congregation before the meeting/congregation starts”, the court added.
The interim order was passed on a petition filed by Gwalior-based advocate Ashish Pratap Singh, who complained of violations of Covid-19 safety norms by political party leaders ahead of the bypolls The court appointed three advocates as amicus curiae (friend of the court) to submit their own reports one election meetings.
The court had earlier directed district collectors to invoke penal provisions of the Disaster Management Act and Indian Penal Code not only against the members of the congregation who fail to follow Covid-19 protocols, but also against political and government functionaries responsible for organising such an assembly.
On the petitioner pointing out that FIRs had not been lodged against Union minister Tomar and former chief minister Kamal Nath for speaking at and being present in overcrowded rallies despite the court’s previous orders, the bench directed the district administrations to ensure the registration of complaints against both for breach of Covid-19 protocols. After the court’s interim order on October 12, FIRs were lodged against several other political leaders for organising or speaking at such rallies.
State Congress spokesperson Bhupendra Gupta said the party was studying the court order. “Election meetings are held to educate voters. Hence, restrictions on public meetings will limit the opportunities of the political parties to convey their 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 ECI. We are bound to follow ECI guidelines in respect with elections. We will see if ECI issues any fresh guidelines for elections.”