SC stays M.P High Court order directing ‘virtual’ campaigns for bypolls

Court refuses to “say anything on the merits of the case”, asks EC to consider the issues raised in the petitions.

The Supreme Court on Monday stayed a Madhya Pradesh High Court order which directed “virtual” election campaigning and rallies for the by-polls to 28 Assembly seats in the State.

Serving a fillip to “physical” poll campaigns and rallies amid the pandemic, a Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar prima facie agreed with the petitions filed by the Election Commission and BJP candidate Pradyuman Singh Tomar, represented by advocate Astha Sharma against the High Court order of October 20.

The Supreme Court asked the Election Commission to consider the issues raised in the petitions and the High Court order of October 20 and “proceed in the matter in accordance with law”. The court refused to “say anything on the merits” of the case.

Mr. Tomar argued that the order “violated his right to conduct election campaigns through physical gatherings as permitted by the Election Commission, Central Government and the State of Madhya Pradesh”.

The Election Commission had on September 29 had issued a Press note announcing by-elections to the Legislative Assemblies of several States, including Madhya Pradesh. The EC had permitted public gatherings, election rallies subject to the COVID-19 guidelines.

The Centre had also permitted political gatherings beyond the existing limit of 100 persons under the National Disaster Management Act.

However, the High Court countermanded the EC by allowing campaigns and rallies only by virtual mode not by physical gathering.

The High Court made a condition that physical gathering is permissible only if the local District Magistrate is convinced that virtual mode is not possible. But even then, physical gatherings would be allowed only after the political parties deposit with the District Magistrate money sufficient to buy “double the number of masks and sanitisers required for protecting the number of persons expected in the gathering”.

This article originally appeared on The Hindu