In view of COVID-19 and the invocation of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 in the state, the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court last week relaxed its previous directions and allowed state government to postpone elections to 22 district central cooperative banks, sugar factories and 8,194 village-level agricultural credit co-operative societies.
The HC bench on March 11 had struck down the state government’s January 27 and 31 orders to postpone the elections stating that officials would be busy with the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Shetkari Karjamukti Yojna, 2019, the farm loan waiver scheme, and dealing with natural calamities.
The HC had passed the judgment while hearing a batch of petitions filed by cooperative societies and other individuals seeking to set aside the government’s decision claiming that it was done with oblique motive. It had observed that the government had sufficient manpower to conduct elections to co-operative societies while sparing officials for implementation of the farm loan waiver scheme.
As per regular schedule prescribed by the cooperative societies law, the elections were to be completed between April and June this year, which was postponed by the state for three months. On March 11, the HC had directed the government to conduct the elections as per schedule while refusing to extend the stipulated tenure.
However, in wake the lockdown, the State Cooperative Election Authority filed an application before the court and submitted that it is not in a position to conduct the election within the timeframe.
A division bench of Justices S V Gangapurwala and Shrikant D Kulkarni on March 23 noted that after its March 11 order several measures had been in force, including invocation of the Epidemic Diseases Act and a lockdown. The bench, led by Justice Gangapurwala, observed, “Today, the situation is different. The law is never rigid. It will have to take into consideration the prevalent situation and the measures taken to curb the menace of COVID-19. Nobody is aware of the period the epidemic would continue.”
The court also noted that if authorities are unable to conduct elections within the stipulated time, it will not amount to contempt of the court order as exceptions are made due to “unavoidable catastrophe”. The bench also gave liberty to the authorities and the state government to postpone the election process and directed them to take necessary steps as provided in law.
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