The court was not impressed by the State Election Commission’s fervent pleas that COVID-19 was at its peak in Tamil Nadu.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the Tamil Nadu State Election Commission (SEC) time to work, if necessary 24 hours a day, and hold the local body elections in nine newly carved districts of the State by September 15.
“Holding of elections is a constitutional obligation,” a Vacation Bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said.
The court was not impressed by the SEC’s fervent pleas that COVID-19 was at its peak in the State.
“COVID has become a good excuse in all matters. For two years, you have not conducted the elections… Now you conduct the elections before the third wave arrives… We know the reality in these matters, unless and until political parties are ready, elections are not held,” Justice Gupta said.
The court said the notification for the elections was issued in 2019. “The delimitation was supposed to be done in four months,” Justice Gupta observed. The tenure of the previous local body had ended in 2018-2019.
Appearing for the state poll body, senior advocate P. Narasimha said the local body elections had already been held, following which the nine districts were carved out. The delimitation had to be done before holding the elections. There was no delay on the part of the SEC. The pandemic had hit the state in the meantime.
The court initially said the polls in the districts should be held in two months by August 31.
Mr. Narasimha said two months was too short. He urged for more time. The election machinery had been moved to West Bengal for the recent Assembly elections, and it would take time for it to be set up in Tamil Nadu.
‘Matter of health’
“This is not about the efficiency of administration. It is a health matter… Tamil Nadu is having the highest number of COVID cases,” the senior lawyer said.
Senior advocate P. Wilson, for Tamil Nadu, agreed with Mr. Narasimha, submitting that considering the “unusual circumstances (caused by COVID-19), what SEC says was true”.
Justice Gupta, however, stood firm initially. “If you do not want August 31, then we will say August 15”.
However, the Bench had a short discussion, after which Justice Gupta informed the lawyers that Justice Bose was agreeable to extending the deadline for the elections to September 15.
“We grant extension of time till September 15 to complete the entire process,” Justice Gupta said in the order.
In December last year, the Supreme Court had granted six months’ extension to complete the delimitation exercise and conduct the local body elections in the nine districts.
A Bench led by then Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde had allowed an application filed by the State Election Commission to complete the delimitation exercise in these districts which was interrupted by the advent of the pandemic in March.
The court had, on December 11 last year, ordered the completion of the delimitation exercise to the nine districts in three months.
The districts in question are Kancheepuram, Chengalpattu, Vellore, Thirupathur, Ranipet, Villupuram, Kallakurichi, Tirunelveli and Tenkasi.