Supreme Court junks demand to stay Bihar elections due to Covid-19 pandemic
Bihar is the first state to go to polls during the Covid-19 pandemic and amid preparations being made by the Election Commission (EC) for holding elections two months from now, the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the first sign of resistance to EC’s decision.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan dismissed a PIL filed by a Muzaffarpur resident Avinash Thakur seeking postponement of Assembly elections due in October this year.
Pointing to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the state and floods which have displaced lakhs of residents in 14 districts of north Bihar, the petition stated that at present, the health of citizens should be the paramount consideration of the state authorities.
The petition cited a news clipping of August 12 where the Chief Election Commissioner was quoted saying that elections to the 243-member Assembly in Bihar will be held as per schedule.
The bench observed, “the Election Commission will take care of every situation. They must be considering everything.”
The petitioner’s counsel Neeraj Shekhar said that the Representation of People’s Act gives power to the EC to defer the polls. He asked the Court to seek a report from the EC or the state authorities to assess the situation on the ground. He stated that presently, there is a ban on any political, social or cultural gathering in the state due to the pandemic.
“Politicians and administration are focusing on election preparation instead of battling flood and Covid-19,” the petitioner told the bench. Shekhar urged the Court to consider the ground situation and direct the EC not to ask the state government to recommend holding assembly 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 EC in this regard. The bench said that this right was available to the petitioner even otherwise and refused to pass any direction to this effect.
Political parties in the state are divided over holding elections during the pandemic. Some political parties, like the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) have requested deferment of polls. The Left parties too have supported this demand. However, the ruling combine of Janata Dal (United) and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) are happy to go ahead with the election.
The EC is getting poll-ready although dates have not been announced yet. Recently, the poll panel released guidelines for conducting polls in Bihar which provide the “last hour of poll” to allow Covid-19 patients. Those suspected of having the disease will also have the opportunity to cast votes at the respective polling stations.
Only 1,000 voters to each polling station have been permitted by the EC. All voters will undergo temperature checks and the wearing of mask shall be compulsory. The EC guidelines further provide that the poll candidate’s convoy will have only five cars. Three persons will be permitted to conduct a door-to-door campaign.