VIJAYAWADA: The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Sunday struck down the orders of State Election Commissioner (SEC) Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar to Director General of Police Gautam Sawang to confine Panchayat Raj Minister Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy to his residence till the end of panchayat elections. The High Court, however, refused to interfere in the SEC orders barring Peddireddy from speaking to the media till February 21.
Taking serious note of the minister’s warning at a press meet in Tirupati that stern action would be taken against the District Collectors and Returning Officers if they obey the SEC directions on unanimous panchayat elections, Ramesh Kumar issued the orders directing the DGP to confine Peddireddy to his residence till the end of elections and deny access to the media till February 21. Challenging the SEC orders, Peddireddy filed a house motion petition in the High Court, which came up for hearing before Justice DVSS Somayajulu on Sunday.
Appearing on behalf of Peddireddy, senior counsel CV Mohan Reddy informed the court that the orders of the SEC confining him to his residence was against the Constitution. It is the policy of the government to encourage unanimous panchayat polls and the same is supported by the minister, he said. If only one candidate files a nomination for an election, it will be deemed as unanimous and Peddireddy only remarked that the SEC does not have any power to question it. Unanimous polls are always welcomed and Peddireddy reiterated it. Restricting a person from moving out is nothing but confinement and the SEC does not have any power to do so without even serving a notice on Peddireddy, the counsel said.
Advocate General S Sriram, appearing on behalf of the government, said the SEC does not have the power to place the minister under house arrest. Any action can be taken only after seeking an explanation and it cannot be unilateral. The SEC had not sought any explanation from the minister and issued orders to the DGP to confine him to his residence, which is against the Constitution, he said. Senior counsel B Adinarayana Rao, appearing on behalf of the SEC, said the remarks made by the minister during the press meet tantamount to questioning the powers of the SEC.
After hearing both the sides, Justice Somayajulu said he would confine to the remarks made by the minister during his press meet and would not go into the issue of unanimous panchayat elections. Confining a person amounts to curtailing his freedom. A person can be placed under the house arrest only under law. The SEC, however, does not have the power to place a person under the house arrest.
However, freedom of expression is not unlimited and the SEC orders barring the minister from
addressing the media is acceptable, Justice Somayajulu observed.He added elections should be conducted in a free and fair manner. Justice Somayajulu issued interim orders striking down the confinement orders and at the same time refused to interfere in the SEC orders barring Peddireddy from addressing the media.