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Dissenting EC had offered to quit; poll body contradicts itself on media gag

In his affidavit, he is said to have stated that the court’s oral observations — on the Election Commission’s role in conducting elections during the second Covid wave — had demoralised the EC’s rank and file.

Written by Ritika Chopra | New Delhi |
Updated: May 7, 2021 7:30:17 am
election commission, election commission coronavirus cases, india coronavirus, supreme court on Madras High Court murder remark, ECI Covid-19, ECI Covid-19 spread, Assembly Elections Covid-19, India Covid-19 second wave, Indian ExpressCEC Sushil Chandra (left) and Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar. (Express Photo)

The dissenting Election Commissioner had offered to resign as “punishment” if the Madras High Court (HC) so desired. This was among the key points the Commissioner had made in his affidavit, The Indian Express has learned.

In his affidavit, he is said to have stated that the court’s oral observations — on the Election Commission’s role in conducting elections during the second Covid wave — had demoralised the EC’s rank and file.

Urging the court to not punish the institution but the individual, he is said to have requested the court to withdraw its oral observations or hold him personally accountable. For the latter, he offered to take personal responsibility and resign.

But this affidavit was rejected by the Election Commission and never filed with the HC nor attached with its Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court against the Madras High Court’s “murder-charges” remark.

The dissenting Commissioner is also said to have told his colleague that senior officials had not even cared to acknowledge his inputs and that he felt marginalised.

After Sunil Arora’s retirement as Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) on April 12, the three-member Commission has Sushil Chandra as CEC and Rajiv Kumar as Election Commissioner. The position of the third commissioner is vacant.

The Indian Express had first reported Wednesday that the poll panel’s plea in the Madras High Court to gag the media from reporting oral observations of judges and its SLP in the top court were not unanimously approved by the Commission.

So sharp was the difference in opinion between the two commissioners on this matter that the dissenting member had wanted to put his views on record in a separate affidavit.

On Wednesday, this newspaper had also reported that the dissenting Commissioner had separately advised against calling for a gag on the media but his feedback was ignored. Reacting to the report, the Commission issued a statement saying that it was “unanimous that before Hon’ble Supreme Court there should not be any prayer for restriction on media reporting.”

However, the EC’s Special Leave Petition (SLP) contradicts this.

In the SLP, the Commission said it was aggrieved by the oral observations of the High Court and also by the court not having addressed the merits of its miscellaneous application. In the latter, the EC had, indeed, sought restrictions on media reporting the exchange between the judge and the lawyers in open court.

The Supreme Court’s order on Thursday, too, states that the Commission’s counsel said in court that the EC was unhappy over the Madras HC not considering its miscellaneous application.

The disagreement within the Commission stems from the Madras High Court’s strong observations on April 26 against the EC for “not stopping political parties” from violating Covid protocols during their campaign rallies last month. In its oral observations, the HC lamented that perhaps murder charges should be imposed on the panel for being “the only institution responsible for the situation that we are in today”.

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