Role of Election Commission (EC) in conducting elections in five States in India during COVID Pandemic
Election Commission has announced poll dates for five States West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry on 27th February 2021. Considering the fact in this year, when whole World is sadly gripped and shattered by the deadly Corona Virus , which has taken away millions of lives, conducting an Election is daunting task for election commission this time. Moreover, these elections will have a crucial bearing on the politics of the future. This election is going to decide whether The BJP-led NDA is likely to retain power in the northeastern state of Assam or Congress would emerge as winner and this election also is going to witness an intense clash between the most fearsome components. While Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) is eyeing a hat-trick, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to make inroads and in Kerala, it is to be decided whether LDF is likely to break the chain by retaining the chief ministership.
Post announcement of election dates, we have witnessed that political parties have started political rallies, meetings without maintaining any social distancing and ironically political leaders who represent us in parliament and State Legislatures, are shamelessly part of this political rallies in spite of aware of threat of COVID. But story does not end here; the humorous part is that political leaders are proudly sharing the gathering in their meeting to exhibit their strength. Sadly, due to these massive gatherings and meetings, COVID has spreads rapidly in the election bound States and many have lost their near and dear ones. There are no places in hospital for patients and many are dying without oxygen and dead bodies are piling up in Burning Ghats.
Now the big question arises here, when there was massive gathering in election bond States, where is the Election Commission? What is their role? Whether they have gone to the land of sleep, or they have built similar characteristics like famous two monkeys of Gandhiji who sees no evil and who hears no evil.
In order to discover the flaws of the roles of Election Commission, let us examine the power of the Election Commission as conferred under Indian Constitution.
♥ Article 324(1) of Indian Constitution provides that Election Commission performs the following functions :
The superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls and also the conduct elections to Parliament, State Legislatures and to the officers of President and Vice President.
More precisely, it is the prerogative of the Government to choose the timing of the general elections but role of Election Commission is to take over the actual conduct and supervision of the elections.
Further, Article 324 (6) of the Constitution of India provides ample constitutional authority for the Election Commission of India to require availability of such officers from different zones and for different purposes as may be required in matters in connection with elections. Such requests have to be answered by the President or the Governor, as the case may be.
By conjoint reading of the above Articles under Indian Constitution, it is crystal clear that our Constitution gives ample power to Election Commission for conducting election.
In this regard, it is pertinent to refer the recent case of Nitish Debnath Vs. Election Commission of India & Ors. WPA (P) 129 of 2021 where Honorable Kolkata High Court has examined the power conferred to Election Commission under Article 324(6) of Indian Constitution, where it is observed that though the President and the Governor are to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, such aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, either in the Union or in the State, cannot override the plenary power of the Election Commission of India to go ahead. It requires appropriately moulding and modulating the electoral process and doing everything that is required for the smooth conduct of the election.
In view of the above observation, Hon’ble Kolkata High Court held that any restrictive governance imposed by the Election Commission of India as regards public behaviour as regards the protective protocol in relation to COVID management shall be strictly followed and abided by the people. It will be within the jurisdiction of the competent authorities to enforce that masking; social distancing, etc. as required by the COVID protocol, are strictly adhered to and enforced in the State of West Bengal. It is further held that there is no way for any department or institution of governance to excuse itself from obeying the commands of the Election Commission of India and not complying and cooperating with the Election Commission of India’s directions. This shall be taken as part of the mandatory command of this Court in support of what the Election Commission is carrying forward.
Thus, it is clear from the above judgement of Hon’ble Kolkata High Court that the Election Commission is enjoying absolute power in matters in connection with elections and neither the Council of Ministers of Union nor in the State, cannot override the plenary power of the Election Commission of India.
It is well said that “With great power comes great responsibility”, which has a simple meaning; if you have the ability to do something, make sure that you do it for the good of others. Hence the role of Election Commission is highly questionable as neither they impose any restriction on political rallies nor take any measures in order to maintain social distancing in political rallies.
In this regard, it is prudent to refer the case where Hon’ble Madras High Court [W.P. No 10441] has observed that even though the polling was by and large peaceful in this State on April 6, 2021 but Election Commission could not ensure that political parties adhered to the Covid protocol at the time of election campaigns and rallies and despite repeated orders of this Court, going on like a broken record at the foot of almost every order on an election petition, that Covid protocol ought to be maintained during the campaign time, the significance of adhering to such protocol may have been lost on the Election Commission, going by the silence on the part of the Election Commission as campaigning and rallies were conducted without distancing norms being maintained and in wanton disregard of the other requirements of the protocol. Hon’ble Madras High Court held that Public health is of paramount importance and it is distressing that Constitutional authorities have to be reminded in such regard. It is only when the citizen survives that he enjoys the other rights that this democratic republic guarantees unto him. The situation is now one of survival and protection and, everything else comes thereafter.
The observation of Hon’ble Madras High Court depicts the real picture of the all election bonded States. When our political leaders are shamelessly organizing election rallies without marinating COVID, when Election Commission stops reacting and behaves like two monkeys of Gandhi Ji, our Judiciary has come with fearless order which gives a ray of hope to every Indian who still believes in our powerful judiciary system.
Mr. T.N.Seshan had been appointed as 10th Election Commissioner of India and he was known for his electoral reforms. Hopefully, one day, we find another T.N. Seshan or rather better Election Commissioner who would again bring another reforms and use his power conferred in Indian Constitution properly for betterment of people of India.