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Andhra Pradesh High Court Stays MPTC, ZPTC Polls

Vijayawada: The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Tuesday stayed MPTC and ZPTC elections, scheduled to be held on April 8, until further orders and directed the State Election Commission (SEC) to file a sworn affidavit by April 15 stating that it will abide by the Supreme Court directives on the procedure to be followed for the conduct of the polls.

The High Court found fault with the SEC for not adhering to the Apex Court directive to enforce the Model Code of Conduct for four weeks prior to the election day.

Justice U Durga Prasad Rao issued the interim orders on a supplementary petition filed by TDP leader Varla Ramaiah. However, the Judge refused to consider the request to stay further action on the notifications issued for the conduct of the MPTC and ZPTC polls in March and May last year.

He ruled that the SEC has the authority to change or renotify poll process depending on the circumstances under Rule 7 of the AP Panchayat Raj (Conduct of Elections) Rules. The Judge dismissed a supplementary petition filed by the BJP seeking a directive to stop last year’s poll notifications.

The BJP as well as the TDP had filed separate petitions objecting to the polls. While the BJP sought a directive against continuing with last year’s notifications, the TDP sought interim orders directing the SEC to first implement the four-week Model Code of Conduct before the elections.

In his ruling, Justice Durga Prasad Rao said that normally, the judiciary doesn’t use its special powers under Article 226 to interfere once the election process gets underway. There is a bar on this under Article 329. If anyone has any objections, they could file a petition before the appropriate election authority, he pointed out.

However, it is not correct to argue that there can be no judicial review of electoral matters under Article 226, he opined and cited the verdict of the Supreme Court in the Mohinder Singh Gill case wherein it ruled that courts can interfere under special circumstances.

Notification for the MPTC and ZPTC polls was first issued on March 7 last year. However, they were deferred through another notification on March 15 due to the spread of Covid-19. The State government had then challenged the same in the Supreme Court, which directed the SEC to consult the government before holding the polls and also to implement the Model Code of Conduct for four weeks prior to the election day.

“The court doesn’t agree with the argument of the SEC’s counsel CV Mohan Reddy that four weeks is the maximum period of model code,” the Judge said and ruled that non-adherence to the Apex Court directive tantamounts to hindering free, fair and transparent elections.

The SEC on Tuesday night filed an appeal in the High Court against the single-judge order. The Chief Justice will have to decide which division bench will hear the appeal. It will come up for hearing today