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Madras High Court raps Election Commission of India, refuses to gag media on oral observations

Earlier on Monday, the first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy came down heavily on the ECI for “not stopping political parties from violating the Covid protocol” in their rallies for Assembly elections.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: May 1, 2021 7:12:00 am
Madras High Court, Election Commission of India, AIADMK, Tamil Nadu Transport Minister, MR Vijayabhaskar, tamil nadu news, chennai news, india news, indian expressMadras High Court (File Photo)

A day after questioning the Centre on its preparations over the last 10-15 months for tackling the second wave of Covid-19, the Madras High Court Friday refused to entertain a petition by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Friday seeking to restrain media from publishing the court’s oral observations blaming the poll body for the rise in Covid-19 cases.

Earlier on Monday, the first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy came down heavily on the ECI for “not stopping political parties from violating the Covid protocol” in their rallies for Assembly elections. It was hearing a petition by AIADMK leader and Tamil Nadu Transport Minister MR Vijayabhaskar which sought directions for the ECI to follow specific measures during counting on May 2 in his constituency Karur. As many as 77 candidates contested are in the fray for the Karur seat.

The court had told ECI on Monday that “you should be put on murder charges probably”, that “you are the most irresponsible over the last few months in not stopping political parties from wanton abuse of the Covid-19 protocol” and that “you are the only institution responsible for the situation that we are in today.”

On Friday, the ECI said these oral observations had caused it grave prejudice and that police complaints were being filed against it seeking action for criminal offence. Rejecting requests by senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, representing ECI, to direct media houses to confine their reports to written orders and to refrain from reporting oral observations of judges during the court proceedings, the court said the Commission can anyway approach the courts “if any frivolous complaints are made”.

A day before, on Thursday, the Madras High Court was irked at the poor preparedness of the Central government in handling the second wave of pandemic. On a suo motu public interest writ proceeding initiated to check the preparedness of the state to tackle the second wave besides assessing the availability of oxygen, beds, drugs and ventilators to treat Covid patients, the first bench of CJ Banerjee and Ramamoorthy asked the Centre what they were doing for the past 10 to 15 months.

“Why are we acting only now in April, this will help only in July. Despite having almost a year-long lockdown, see the situation we are in,” the court said.

When the Additional Solicitor-General R Shankaranarayanan representing the Centre said the government did not expect a second wave in the country, the court said: “Do you even consult experts on such issues? We did not mean to disrespect anyone…”

CJ Banerjee said he was yet to meet “a respectable doctor who advised” him “to drop the guard” and reminded that there cannot be ad-hocism in dealing with a pandemic. “The Centre should have acted in a planned and informed manner with expert advice,” the court said.

In its order posted on Friday, the court said post-mortem on both the Centre’s “endeavour to indicate that the surge in numbers may have been unexpected and that preparatory measures had been taken for quite some time” and EC’s concern at sensationalism “may have to wait particularly in the light of the immediate measures that may be put in place.”

Referring to the proceedings, the order said it was to “ensure that the authorities tasked with such obligation devote their complete attention in such regard, so that the measures may be monitored in some degree.”

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