Elections to the nine vacant seats of Maharashtra Legislative Council will be held on May 21, the Election Commission (EC) decided in a meeting on Friday.
The decision is expected to pave the way for Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to enter the Legislative Council.
As per Article 164 (4) of the Constitution, Thackeray, who is not a member of the state Legislature, needs to get elected to either the Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council before the six-month deadline, expiring on May 27 in his case.
The Commission will next week review the remaining elections to 18 Rajya Sabha seats and 9 Legislative Council seats of Bihar, which were also deferred because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The EC, officials said, will soon ask the Ministry of Home Affairs to appoint an officer of “suitable seniority” to ensure that the MLC election process in Maharashtra is compliant with guidelines issued by the Union government under the Disaster Management Act. Simultaneously, the EC will ask the Maharashtra government to depute an officer “to ensure that the extant instructions regarding COVID-19 are complied with while making arrangements for conducting the elections”.
The state’s Chief Electoral Officer, Baldev Harpal Singh, will be the observer for the polls, an EC official said.
The Commission, in the coming week, will devise the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for conducting elections during a pandemic. The SOP will lay down the precautions the polling staff, and MLAs will have to take while casting their vote.
The EC’s decision comes less than a day after Maharashtra Governor B S Koshyari asked the Commission to hold elections to nine Legislative Council seats, which fell vacant on April 24, “at the earliest”.
Koshyari’s letter came two days after Thackeray approached Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the matter. Thackeray called up the PM after the Governor sat on a recommendation made a month ago by the state government to nominate him to the Legislative Council.
Thackeray was sworn in on November 28, 2019. His failure to enter the Legislature by May 27 would mean the state Cabinet would also have to resign.
The government had hoped to get Thackeray nominated through the Governor’s quota following the EC’s decision to defer polls to the nine Council seats due to the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent nationwide lockdown, beginning March 25.
Besides the Governor’s letter, the Commission had also received representations from the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP, the ruling coalition partners in the state. Their letters stated that on account of the “peculiar, extraordinary, unforeseen facts and circumstances”, Thackeray had not been able to get himself elected to the Legislative Council.
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