Only the Election Commission of India (ECI) is competent to decide when to conduct bye-elections, the Madhya Pradesh (MP) High Court recently opined while dismissing a plea that sought to defer bye-elections to the Khandwa parliamentary constituency and Prathvipur, Jobat, and Rajgarh assembly constituencies in MP (Nagrik Upbhokta Margdarshak Manch v. State of Madhya Pradesh).
A further prayer was made to direct the ECI to conduct the bye-elections only after assessing the ground situation of Coronavirus in the State.
However, a Division Bench headed by Chief Justice Mohammed Rafiq dismissed the plea.
The court said that it must be held that only the Election Commission of India is competent to decide as to when should the bye-elections to Parliamentary Constituency of Khandwa and Assembly Constituencies of Prathvipur, Jobat and Rajgarh should be held. There is no reason to assume that such a decision shall not be taken by the Commissioner after assessing the situation of Covid-19 on the ground.
It was added that the ECI placed on record a press note of September 4, as per which it had decided to not conduct bye-elections in other 31 assembly constituencies and 3 parliamentary constituencies owing to COVID-19. However, considering the constitutional exigency and special request from the State of West Bengal, it had decided to hold a by-election in Bhabanipur.
Hearing this, the Bench which also comprised Justice Vijay Kumar Shukla said that the Election Commission is fully cognizant of the situation of Coronavirus and has, therefore, taken a conscious decision.
On the contrary, the Court added, the material produced on record clearly indicates the Election Commission is fully cognizant of the situation of coronavirus and has, therefore, taken a conscious decision for the time being not to hold the byelections. Further, referring to Article 324 of the Constitution of India, the Court also observed thus: "It is a settled position of law that Article 324 of Constitution of India, the Court also observed thus: "It is a settled position of law that Article 324 of the Constitution is a reservoir of power the Election Commission to act in such vacuous area where enacted laws make no provisions.
The Division Bench further observed that Article 324 (superintendence, direction, and control of elections to be vested in an Election Commission) grants wide powers to the ECI.
The court added that even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the ECI had issued broad guidelines for the conduct of general elections/ bye-elections envisaging directions for political campaigns, meetings, number of electors in the polling station, polling station arrangements along with punishment for violations.
The High Court also deemed it fit to rely on a 2002 Supreme Court, wherein it opined that decisions regarding elections should not be interfered with as the ECI is best suited to decide the same.
In view of the same, the Court said that no interference is warranted in the present matter and proceeded to dismiss the plea.
Advocate Dinesh Kumar Upadhyay appeared for the petitioner while Additional Advocate General Pushpendra Yadav appeared for the State government. Advocate Siddharth Seth appeared for ECI.