Jagan hints at ordinance to prevent state panel from holding local polls

The confrontation between YSR Congress party government in Andhra Pradesh and the state election commission has taken a new turn with chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy hinting at promulgating an ordinance to prevent the commission from conducting the elections to local bodies in February.

The Jagan government on Friday moved a resolution in the state assembly suggesting that suitable legal provisions would be incorporated in AP Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, to prevent the conduct of local body elections by SEC Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar against the wishes of the state government.

The state government said there is a provision in Section 197(6) of the Telangana Panchayat Raj Act which mandates that the schedule and the date of elections to panchayat raj institutions shall be decided by the SEC in concurrence with the state government.

It said the Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj Act does not have such a provision and therefore, it was proposed to incorporate a similar provision to see that the SEC announces the schedule of elections only in concurrence with the state government.

Challenging the resolution, Ramesh Kumar on Saturday wrote a letter to Governor Biswabhushan Harichandan stating that the resolution adopted in the assembly was unconstitutional. He requested the Governor not to promulgate the ordinance on recommendation of the state government but refer the same to the legal experts.

State health minister Alla Kali Krishna Srinivas alias Nani, who moved the resolution in the assembly, said the state was obligated to ensure the health of its citizens and at the very minimum not to initiate any activity which compromises their life and health.

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“The state machinery has therefore communicated to SEC that it would be imprudent to schedule any elections at this time. The concern for public health cannot be a subject matter of competitive assessment and the state’s bona fide opinion on such matter ought not to have been brushed aside,” he said.

Reacting to the contention of the SEC that elections were being held in different parts of the country, the minister said no two states were comparable with regard to the factual situation of the pandemic and its effect.

He said local bodies’ elections and the legitimacy of the elected members were directly related to the voters’ choice. If the voters do not turn out to exercise their franchise to choose their representatives out of fear of Covid-19, it deprives them of their fundamental right to vote and may result in an elected body not being a true representative of the people, he said.

“Therefore, the spirit of the consultative process is breached, and appropriate legislative interventions may be needed in due course of time and the government should take suitable action in this regard,” Nani said.

The minister further said about five lakh employees were required to conduct the local body elections and most of them had been representing not to participate in the situation by the conduct of the elections in the near future.

He reminded that the Supreme Court questioned the unilateralism of the SEC and directed that further decisions on the conduct of local body elections be taken in consultation with the state.

In his letter to the Governor, Ramesh Kumar argued that under Article 243K of the Constitution, SEC was an autonomous institution having equal powers of the Election Commission of India and it was the duty of the SEC to conduct local body elections once in five years. “There is no need for the SEC to take the concurrence of the state government,” he said.

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