In a setback to the Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh, the Supreme Court on Monday gave the green signal to state election commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar to conduct gram panchayat elections in the state in February.
A two-member division bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Hrishikesh Roy dismissed the special leave petition filed by the Jagan government seeking to stall the process initiated by the SEC for the gram panchayat elections in the state.
The apex court ordered that the elections for the gram panchayats in the state be held as scheduled and there was no need for postponing the elections indefinitely on the pretext of Covid-19 vaccination drive.
“Vaccination is no hurdle for the conduct of elections. The SEC is empowered to conduct the local body elections and the court cannot interfere in its powers,” the Supreme Court bench said.
The bench asserted that it would not allow the Constitutional breakdown in the state, as the conduct of elections was part of the Constitutional process. The bench wondered whether elections were not held anywhere in the country.
“When there was a coronavirus situation, you wanted elections. Why are you opposing it? You cannot attribute motives to the SEC,” the court asked the government.
The court also dismissed a batch of petitions filed by the various employees’ associations seeking to implead themselves in the case, opposing the election process. “This is against the law. In what way are the government employees concerned with the decision? They have no business to intervene in the dispute between two constitutional systems,” the bench said.
On January 8, Kumar released the schedule of elections to gram panchayats in four phases – February 5, 9, 13 and 17. The notification was issued on January 23 and the nomination process was to commence on Monday.
The state government had challenged the schedule in the state high court and on January 11, a single judge bench of the high court cancelled the election process. When the SEC filed a review petition before the high court, a division bench headed by chief justice A K Goswami on January 21 ordered that the elections be held as per the schedule. This was challenged by the Jagan government in the Supreme Court, which gave its verdict on Monday.
The nomination process for the phase-1 of gram panchayat elections which was scheduled to begin at 10.30 am on Monday, could not take place, as the district collectors and district panchayat officers refused to start the process as there were no instructions from the state government.
The SEC in a statement said no arrangements were made to receive nominations. “The district administrators did not commence the process for phase-1 elections, stating that they were awaiting instructions from the government, thereby vitiating the election process,” he said.
Soon after the Supreme Court gave the green signal for the panchayat elections, Kumar announced reschedule of the gram panchayat elections. The phase-I elections will now become phase-IV elections, to be held on February 21, nominations for which would begin from February 10.
“As a result, the Phase-II, Phase-III and Phase-IV Gram Panchayat elections will now be rescheduled as Phase-I, Phase-II and Phase-III respectively. The nomination process for the revised phase-I elections will begin on January 29,” he said.
The SEC also wrote to the state government to use the services of the Central government employees and also those of Central public sector undertakings for election related responsibilities, if necessary, in case there is non-cooperation from the state government employees.