Supreme Court Stays Order Restraining Physical Campaigns in the Madhya Pradesh Bye-Elections

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On the 26th of October, a Bench was set up which comprised Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, and Justice Sanjiv Khanna. They heard 3 separate pleas challenging the Order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court restraining physical campaigns. The Bench decided to stay the Order asking the Election Commission of India to look into the issues raised in the Order.

Brief facts of the case

On the 20th of October, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh heard a PIL filed throwing light on the rising COVID-19 cases due to the campaigns organized by political parties in person and the inaction on part of the authorities concerned.

The High Court opined that the elections were to be held virtually. Thus, all District Magistrates were restrained from granting permission to the parties for conducting physical campaigns unless the DM was satisfied that a physical campaign was necessary and the virtual one was not possible. Also if the permission was received, the party must deposit an amount to the DM that must be enough to buy masks and sanitizers of twice the number of people expected to attend. 

Three separate pleas were filed challenging this Order. One was by the Election Commission of India, on by BJP Leader Pradyumn Singh Tomar, and another by Munna Lal Goyal.

Arguments

Challenging the Order Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, representing the ECI argued that as per the provisions under the Constitution, this Commission had the responsibility to oversee the conduct and management of the elections. And Article 329 expressly bars judicial interference during the electoral process. 

The Counsel submitted that this order of the High Court is “a complete interference with the conduct of elections and virtually paralyzes the exercise.”

The BJP Leader and candidate Pradyumn Singh Tomar was represented by Advocate Astha Sharma. He contested the bye-elections from Gwalior and hence argued throw Adv. Sharma that this impugned HC order was a violation of his right to conduct an election campaign through physical gatherings. The same was permitted by the Election Commission, the Government of India, and the State of MP.

The two candidates also add that since they had lost 7 days of campaigning, they must be granted 2-3 days by adding 3 hours a day to make up for the time lost.

Court’s Observations

The Bench decided not to speak on the merits of the case. They left the contentions up while directing the ECI to consider per law the issues that were raised and discussed in the impugned High Court Order.

The Court also observed that ECI should have interfered with and supervised the elections more proactively so the High Court would not have had to interfere in the electoral process. The High Court was compelled to intervene as the ECI failed to do so at the appropriate stage. 

The Bench observed that they were not inclined to pass any Order about the contentions raised by the other two parties. They asked them to approach the ECI to make their representations.

The Court also remarked that if the political parties had not acted in such an improper manner and instead had maintained proper protocol this situation would not have arisen. 

Court’s Decision

The three-judge Bench decided to put a stay order on the impugned interim High Court Order. They asked the ECI to take proper cognizance of the issues raised in the impugned order.

Click here to view the Judgement.


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