Tribune News Service
New Delhi, October 26
The Supreme Court on Monday stayed a Madhya Pradesh High Court order which restricted candidates and political parties to virtually hold poll campaigning during the Assembly by-election for 28 seats in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staying the October 20 order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, a Bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar asked the Election Commission to take cognisance of all issues raised in the petitions before the high court.
The order came on the petitions filed by the EC and BJP candidate from Gwalior Pradyumn Singh Tomar challenging the high court’s order.
The poll panel had contended that the conduct and management of the elections were overseen by it, and Article 329 of the Constitution put an express bar on judicial interference in midst of the electoral process.
As senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi submitted that the high court’s order interfered with the electoral process and paralyses the entire exercise, the Bench said the poll panel should have been proactive.
On behalf of Tomar, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi pointed out that with barely five days left for voting, there was a need to increase the voting hour by three to four hours. But the Bench chose to ignore it.
In his petition, Tomar submitted that the impugned HC order violated his right to conduct election campaign through physical gatherings as permitted by the EC, the Central Government and the state authorities.
A former Congress MLA, Tomar is currently the Energy Minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government.
He had urged the Apex Court to stay the high court’s order that was passed on a PIL highlighting the violation of physical-distancing norms during COVID-19 and alleged inaction on the part of the state authorities against political parties and leaders.
Maintaining that the Right to Health took precedence over the right to campaigning, the high court had directed political parties to conduct the election campaign by virtual mode without physical gathering.
The high court had also restrained the district magistrates from permitting physical campaigning unless it was proved that conducting virtual election campaign was not possible and the Election Commission approved it in writing.
The high court had directed Datia and Gwalior district authorities to lodge FIRs against former chief minister Kamal Nath and Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar for alleged violation of the COVID-19 norms during the poll campaigns.