Hyderabad: The Andhra Pradesh State Election Commission on Saturday, January 23, has issued the notification for conducting gram panchayat elections in February despite the state government’s open stand of delaying the election over “medical concerns”. With the latest announcement, the conflict between the state government and election commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar has reached the Supreme Court.
As per the notification, the elections will be held in four phases. In the first phase, elections will be held in 14 revenue divisions covering 146 Mandals in 11 districts on February 5. The last date for filing nominations is January 27.
Addressing a press conference, Ramesh Kumar said that the state government has the responsibility to ensure that the elections are held smoothly. “Ultimately the government will have to face the consequences if anything doesn't go well,” he said.
However, the contention over the conduct of elections dates further back. On January 8, the SEC first announced a schedule for conducting the gram panchayat elections, which was challenged by the YSRCP government in the High Court. Following this, the court on January 11 put a stay on the election process. But the SEC appealed against the stay order and subsequently, the court on January 21 allowed the election commissioner to conduct the elections as earlier planned.
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After the High Court directions, the state Chief Secretary Aditya Nath Das on Friday wrote to the SEC for postponing the elections citing vaccination drive. “The state government was committed to assisting the smooth conduct of elections to Panchayat Raj Institutions after duly inoculating poll personnel, including police, revenue etc. Any poll schedule after 60 days of the first dose of immunising the poll personnel, being part of front line workers in Phase I and II of the vaccination programme, would be acceptable to the government,” he said.
However, as the SEC has chosen to conduct elections already, the state government has now approached the Supreme Court challenging the HC order for conducting elections. In its appeal to the top court, the petition raised questions over the medical expertise of Ramesh Kumar for his decision to hold elections amid vaccination drive.
“Kumar is not qualified – having no medical expertise – to decide whether Elections ought to be conducted at a time when vaccination drive is on full swing and the effect of elections on the vaccination drive and the spread of virus,” reads the petition filed by the government. It stated that the entire police force is scheduled to be vaccinated with effect from the first week of February.
The case is scheduled for hearing on Monday, January 25.
Meanwhile, the state government employees’ associations have threatened to boycott the elections because of the pandemic.
“Government employees in Andhra Pradesh have risked their lives to control the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of appreciating, you are threatening to terminate and suspend us. We oppose this step. If you go ahead with the state panchayat polls, chaos may prevail across the state. So please cancel your election notification,” said the employees representatives in a statement. “The government employees on Friday have boycotted a meeting called by the SEC,” the statement added.
Further, the ruling party leaders including Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy have also alleged that State election commissioner Ramesh Kumar is acting at the behest of Telugu Desam Party head N Chandrababu Naidu.
In April last year, the state government through an ordinance had removed Kumar and replaced him with former Madras High Court judge Justice V Kanagaraj. When Kumar challenged the Ordinance in High Court, on May 29, the court directed the government to restore his appointment. After this, the government approached the Supreme Court, but the apex court refused to issue a stay order on the High Court’s verdict.
Ramesh Kumar assumed the office on April 1, 2016, and is set to retire in March 2021.