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Plea in Supreme Court seeks direction not to hold elections in Bihar till State is declared free of COVID-19 and floods

The petition seeks for the Court to direct the Election Commission of India to not recommend the holding of Assembly polls in Bihar due to the existing extraordinary circumstances.

Shruti Mahajan

A petition has been moved before the Supreme Court praying for a direction to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to not recommend the holding of polls in Bihar till the State is declared free of COVID-19 and floods (Rajesh Kumar Jaiswal v. Chief Election Commissioner and ors).

The State is reeling under severe and extraordinary circumstances on account of not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also the recent floods, the petitioner highlights.

At a time like this, the upcoming assembly elections will jeopardize the interests of the people of the State as well as affect their right to vote, it is argued.

In such circumstances, the ECI should be directed not to recommend to the State government to publish the election notification in the gazette till the competent authority declares Bihar free of COVID-19 and flood problems, the petitioner prays.

In doing so, the petitioner has raised certain questions of law for the Court's consideration. These include whether the powers of the ECI under Article 324 of the Constitution also comprises the power to set a schedule for the election or if it is the President or the Governor that decides the schedule for polls after the ECI's recommendation.

The ECI's purported lack of awareness of the severe conditions in the State owing to the pandemic and the calamity is also questioned by the petitioner. He has raised concern if the ECI is unaware that restrictions and prohibitions on large gatherings across the nation due to COVID-19 are sure to affect the process of free and fair elections. As such, it is queried whether the polls should be held at this time.

"Whether the approach of the ECI gives a total go by to the extraordinary situation prevailing in the entire world and more particularly in the State of Bihar and this Hon'ble Court cannot remain a passive spectator in this extraordinary situation and leave the Nation to the mercy of the EC...", the petition reads,

Another pertinent question raised is as regards the Court's powers under its Article 32 jurisdiction and if they are wide enough to intervene in a subject matter of this nature.

The State elections are, as of now, expected to be held in October this year to elect as many as 243 members to the State's Legislative Assembly.

Making a case for deferment of these polls, the petition highlights that the State of Bihar is already battling a strenuous situation. Therefore, the holding of State polls will further burden the administration and divert the current dispensation's focus from the State's administration to preparing for elections.

14 out of 38 total districts in Bihar are reeling under the floods and many people from these areas have been put up in relief camps. This adds to the threat of the spread of illnesses including, more importantly, the spread of the coronavirus. The COVID-19 cases in Bihar are rising on a daily basis, the petition further adds, while painting a dire picture of the situation in the State.

The petitioner had earlier filed a representation raising his grievance and making a request for deferring the polls before the ECI to no avail. This prompted him to approach the top Court seeking relief.

The petition has been filed through Advocate Shantanu Sagar by Rajesh Kumar Jaiswal (petitioner).

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