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Plea seeking deferment of Bihar elections dismissed in SC

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Abraham Thomas, New Delhi
UPDATED ON SEP 02, 2020 12:50 PM IST

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a plea against the election commission’s decision to hold assembly elections in Bihar amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, saying the commission would have considered all aspects.

The state assembly elections are scheduled to be held in October. A three-judge bench headed by justice Ashok Bhushan dismissed a PIL (public interest litigation) filed by a Muzaffarpur resident Avinash Thakur seeking postponement of the elections.

Pointing to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the state and floods that have displaced thousands of residents in 14 districts of north Bihar, the petition argued that the health of citizens should be paramount and not holding elections. The petition cited a newspaper clipping of August 12 in which the chief election commissioner was quoted saying that elections to the 243-member assembly in Bihar would be held as per schedule.

“The election commission will take care of every situation. They must be considering everything,” the bench observed.

Political parties in the state are divided over holding elections during a pandemic. Some parties such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) have requested deferment of polls. Left parties have supported this demand. However, the ruling combine of the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have indicated that they are happy to go ahead with the elections.

The petitioner’s counsel, Neeraj Shekhar, said the Representation of People’s Act gives power to the commission to defer polls. He asked the court to seek a report from the commission or the state authorities to assess the situation on the ground. He stated that there is a ban on any political, social or cultural gathering in the state due to Covid-19 at present.

The election commission is getting poll-ready though the dates have not been announced yet. Recently, the poll panel released guidelines for the conduct of polls in Bihar, which provide for the “last hour of polls” to be used for voting by Covid-19 patients and those suspected of having the disease.

Only 1,000 voters at each polling station will be permitted. All voters will undergo temperature checks and wearing of masks shall be compulsory. The guidelines provide that a candidate’s convoy will have no more than five cars. Three persons at a time have been permitted for door-to-door canvassing.

“Politicians and administration are focusing on election preparation instead of battling with floods and Covid-19,” the petitioner told the bench. Shekhar urged the court to consider the ground situation and direct the election commission to not ask the state government to recommend holding of elections.

The bench, also comprising justices R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, said, “We cannot interfere with the process of elections. What you suggest cannot be a ground to stop elections. This kind of petition under Article 32 cannot be entertained.”

The petitioner decided to withdraw his plea. Shekhar made a final request to move a representation to the election commission in this regard. The bench said that this right was available to the petitioner even otherwise and refused to pass any direction to the effect.

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