MP bypolls: SC stays HC order restraining physical campaigning

Top court takes strict view of role of ECI and political parties on COVID-19 protocol

Supreme Court of India | Reuters Supreme Court of India | Reuters

In a relief to candidates contesting bypolls in Gwalior-Chambal region of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court on Monday stayed an order of the Gwalior bench of MP High Court restraining physical campaigning in nine districts under its jurisdiction.

A three-member bench of the SC, headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, however took a strict view of the role of the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the political parties, while listing the matter after six weeks. The other judges on the bench were justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjeev Khanna.

The stay came on petitions filed by BJP candidates in Gwalior—Pradyumna Singh Tomar and Munnalal Goyal—and the ECI against the MP High Court order of October 20 and 23. The bypolls to 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh is scheduled on 

The SC said that the ECI should have intervened at the appropriate level and asked the government to take steps. The poll panel should have ensured that SOPs (standard operating procedures) were followed at public meetings and candidates who were found to violate norms should have been issued notice, the apex court said, adding that if the parties maintained protocol, this situation would not have arisen.

The court directed the ECI to take cognisance of issues raised in the petition before the MP High Court. “All contentions are left open. It will be open to parties to invite attention of the ECI in respect of issues arising,” the bench said in its order.

A two-member bench of the Gwalior bench of MP High Court had issued interim directions to the district magistrates of nine districts falling within the court's territorial jurisdiction, restraining them from giving permission to any candidate/political party for holding physical congregations of any number of people unless the political party applying for it satisfied the DM that holding a virtual election campaign was not possible.

The court had said that if the political parties have a right to campaign, people have a bigger right to life.

The districts for which the restrain orders were issued include Gwalior, Guna, Morena, Bhind, Ashok Nagar, Datia, Shivpuri, Sheopur and Vidisha.

The court further said that the decision of the district magistrate permitting any political party to conduct physical congregation shall become effective only after the Election Commission of India (ECI) approved the same in writing. Further conditions were also imposed on political parties/candidates as the court said that physical meets were to be allowed only after parties/candidates deposited enough money with DMs for purchase of masks and sanitisers for double the number of people attending the physical meets and such masks and sanitisers were distributed among the attendees before the meet started.

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