Bhopal: The Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court has issued a notice to the state government and the Director General of Police while hearing a writ petition demanding stopping political gatherings and rallies in the state – a violation of COVID-19 regulatory orders – and booking those found guilty under the stringent National Security Act, 1980.
Admitting the petition by Indore-based social worker Kamal Bhagwat, the division bench of justices S.C. Sharma and Virendra Singh sought a reply from eight respondents – the state government, the DGP, DIG Indore division, the SP and the collector of Indore – by October 5.
In his petition, Bhagwat, through his counsel Abhijeet Yadav, submitted to the court that despit COVID-19 regulatory orders, political parties, especially the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are holding rally after rally and campaigning in districts where the by-polls are due, undermining the health risk to the public. He added that instead of taking action against the violators, the police is protecting them.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) has announced that by-polls will be held for 28 seats alongside the Bihar election in October this year. The assembly seats are vacant after Congress MLAs switched over to the BJP earlier this year.
Referring to a recent incident from Indore, the petitioner said that when a group of people held a Muharram procession on August 30, the city police booked 28 people under various sections of the IPC and the city collector invoked the NSA against five people.
On the contrary, the petitioner said that the police as well as the collector turned a blind eye when ruling BJP leaders and workers held a three-day long Narmada Kalash Yatra in Sanwer, Indore, and distributed money and sarees to a large crowd which was defying COVID-19 norms.
The conduct of the administration is reckless, negligent and bias, the petition read.
“This is a clear case of bias by the police as well as district administration. On one hand, they are mute spectators during a three-day long Narmada Kalash Yatra where no one is wearing a mask and following social distancing. On the other hand, the police booked 28 people for holding an hour-long Muharram procession and also invoked the NSA,” counsel Abhijeet Yadav told NewsClick.
“When the entire state was under a lockdown, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, MP Jyotiradiya Scindia and nearly half a dozen ministers from the BJP government were running membership drives in Gwalior between August 22 and 24. Thousands of people from Gwalior, Bhind and Morena participated in it,” petitioner Kamal Bhagwat told NewsClick.
“As a result, Gwalior and Morena reported a near 50 % spike in COVID-19 cases close to 10 days after the membership drive. However, no action has been taken against them,” he added.
COVID-19 cases have touched the one lakh mark in the state and Indore, Gwalior, Bhopal and Jabalpur remain hot-spots of the pandemic.
At the end of the petition, the petitioner demanded that the court should not only ban such campaigning immediately, but that leaders of all political parties should be booked under the NSA for spreading the infection in the state.
In addition, the petitioner also demanded an enquiry and action against officials for their inaction, negligence and bias. After hearing the arguments, the court admitted the petition and sought the government’s reply. It listed the matter for October 5.
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