The Supreme Court on Monday stayed an order of the Gwalior bench of the Madhya Pradesh high court of October 20 restraining physical gathering during election campaigning by candidates in bye-elections to 28 seats.
The order came on an appeal filed by Election Commission (EC) which said that the HC order paralyzed election process with few days remaining for the election on November 3. But the apex court also pulled up the EC for not taking a proactive role to enforce Covid-19 protocol at election rallies that led to the high court order.
The HC had directed all campaigning to be held virtually and permission for physical gathering was to be given by district magistrate only if virtual mode was impossible. Any such permission by a DM was to have the EC’s approval and the candidate was asked to deposit money that is sufficient to purchase double the number of masks and sanitizer for those attending the event.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar, while granting stay, told the EC that had it taken a proactive role in enforcing the Covid SOPs of social distancing, the HC would not have interfered in the matter.
“You should have intervened at the appropriate level and asked government to take steps. At public meetings you should have ensured SOP was followed and those candidates who were found to violate ought to have been issued notice. We wish you were proactive to supervise elections better. If parties maintained protocol, this situation would not have arisen,” the top court said.
The appeals were filed by the EC and two BJP candidates Pradyuman Tomar and Munnalal Goyal. The BJP candidates appealed to the Court to allow the EC to consider their request granting additional time for campaigning in view of 7 days lost for campaigning.
The bench left it to EC to take a call on any such representation that is moved by candidates or political parties.