Andhra High Court suspends panchayat elections schedule
The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Monday suspended the schedule for the rural local bodies elections declared by State Election Commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar.
Observing that he did not take an objective decision in this matter, the court said that it is of the view that elections will hamper the vaccination programme, and pointed out that the SEC did not objectively consider the state government's view, which was conveyed by the Chief Secretary.
It said that the decision to go ahead with elections at this juncture amounts to the violation of fundamental rights.
On Friday, Chief Secretary Aditya Nath Das wrote to Ramesh Kumar that the halted rural local body elections could be resumed once the total vaccination programme along with coronavirus management is allowed to proceed unhindered.
He also highlighted that most functionaries of the state government would be engaged in the massive vaccination operation, being undertaken in collaboration with the Union Health Ministry.
Despite the government's request, the SEC went ahead in issuing the election schedule within a short time of meeting Das, a move termed as unilateral by the government.
Hours before the HC ruling, Ramesh Kumar even suspended one of his subordinates -- joint director G. V. Sai Prasad -- for going on leave as it may affect the conduct of polls.
Following Ramesh Kumar's move, almost all government employee associations, including police employees, demanded that the election schedule be withdrawn, considering their health amid the pandemic, fears of a second wave of infections with a stronger variant of the virus and the crucial vaccination drive.
A few employees even indicated that they will even approach the court and do not care even if he suspends them.
They said panchayat elections are a gigantic task, requiring thousands of employees, interacting with many departments which may lead to rising infections.
A host of ruling YSR Congress Party leaders welcomed the Court's decision. Sattenapalle MLA Ambati Rambabu observed that the SEC thought something but a different result came from the HC.
"Poor Nimmagadda, please tell us if you will go to the Supreme Court or Chandrababu's home. Please tell," wrote Rajya Sabha member V. Vijaysai Reddy mockingly.
The conduct of elections has emerged as a major flash point between the SEC and the state government, which have been at loggerheads for more than a year already.
When the state government was keen on conducting the elections, during the initial days of the pandemic, prior to the lockdown in March 2020, Ramesh Kumar did not go ahead and now when the government does not want to, he was eager to hold them.
The SEC's tenure is expected to get over by March 31 and it remains to be seen if he will choose to escalate the issue to the Supreme Court. - IANS