The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court imposing conditions in conducting physical gatherings by political parties for campaigning in assembly bye-polls.
A bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari & Sanjiv Khanna passed the stay order in 3 separate pleas, by ECI & BJP Leader Pradyumn Singh Tomar and Munna Lal Goyal, challenging an order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court imposing conditions in conducting physical gatherings by political parties for campaigning in assembly bye-polls.
"We stay the operation of the impugned judgment and order but direct election commission to consider the issues referred to in the impugned order and proceed with the matter in accordance with law. We are not expressing anything with regard to the merits of the case or any processes to be adopted by the ECI in that regard. All contentions are left open," the bench observed.
The Top Court added that it will be open to the parties to invite the attention of the election commission in conduct of elections in a free and fair manner.
Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi appeared on behalf of the Election Commission of India and said that this impugned order is a complete interference with conduct of elections and virtually paralyzes the exercise.
"We wish you should have been more proactive and you should have taken measures to supervise the elections better. The HC would not have interfered then. The situation was not changing on the ground so the HC had to interfere. You should have intervened at an appropriate stage," remarked Justice Khanwilkar.
The bench further stated that it had no reservation on staying the order but the ECI must take cognizance of the issues that had come up before the high court and act in accordance with law.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi along with Advocate Astha Sharma appeared for Tomar & Goyal and submitted,
"I have already lost 7 days of campaigning and two-three days may be granted for conduct of campaigns. 3 hours a day at least must be added to make up for the days lost".
Justice Khanwilkar however informed him that the bench was not inclined to pass orders in that regard. "We will not pass that order. Whatever representations that the Political parties need to make, they may approach the ECI. They are free to make whatever representations they want to make," the bench said.
Rohatgi then urged the court to take cognisance of the fact that many days were lost by political parties.
At thus juncture, Justice Khanwilkar remarked,
"If the parties had acted in a proper way and had maintained protocol, this situation would not have arisen in the first place. You must ask yourself who is responsible for this situation in the first place"- Supreme Court
"If the parties had acted in a proper way and had maintained protocol, this situation would not have arisen in the first place. You must ask yourself who is responsible for this situation in the first place"
- Supreme Court
While the ECI had assailed the order on the ground that the conduct and management of elections are overseen by it under the Constitution and Article 329 of the Constitution puts an express bar on judicial interference in midst of electoral process, BJP candidate Pradyumn Singh Tomar, contesting bye-elections from Gwalior, has moved the top court through Advocate Astha Sharma, contending that the impugned interim order has violated his right to conduct election campaign through physical gatherings as permitted by the Election Commission; Central Government and State of Madhya Pradesh.
On October 20, Madhya Pradesh High Court had observed that the elections shall be conducted by virtual mode and not by physical gatherings, thereby restraining all District Magistrates from granting permissions to conduct physical campaigns unless the District Magistrate is satisfied that conduct of virtual election campaign is not possible.
A division bench of Justices Sheel Nagu and Rajeev Kumar Shrivastava further directed that the holding of physical campaign by the political party where the permission is granted by the District Magistrate and approved by the Election Commission, shall take place only after the political party deposits the money with District Magistrate which is sufficient to purchase double the number of masks and sanitizers required for protecting the number of persons expected in the gathering.
The said order was passed in a PIL averring that Covid Cases were on the rise due to the political parties organising campaigns in person& that State authorities were not taking any action against such political parties and their leaders.