VIJAYAWADA: After day-long arguments in the petition filed by the State Election Commissioner (SEC) challenging the verdict by a single judge bench suspending the panchayat poll schedule, the Andhra Pradesh High Court adjourned the case hearing to Tuesday. Appearing for the State government before the division bench comprising Chief Justice Arup Kumar Goswami and Justice Praveen Kumar, Advocate General S Sriram said the government was implementing the Covid vaccination drive sincerely and that it was not against conducting panchayat elections. “However, the government is against conducting both simultaneously, as conducting elections during vaccination drive will reduce the polling percentage,” he argued, citing the low turnout for the GHMC polls.
The AG said if the voters have to exercise their franchise without fear of contamination of the virus, the elections should be held later. However, disregarding government’s objections, the SEC has announced the election schedule. The SEC, taking a comment by a political leader that ‘panchayat polls will be held only after Tirupati by-election’ into consideration, is adamant on conducting the elections now, he said.
Pointing out that 3.7 lakh health workers and 7 lakh frontline workers are engaged in the Covid vaccination drive, Sriram, citing Supreme Court rulings, said as it is related to public health, the court can intervene in the election process. He appealed to the bench to uphold the verdict of the single judge bench. Appearing for the Centre, Assistant Solicitor General N Harinath said the Covid vaccination drive has been taken up across the State and guidelines for the same have been issued to the States.
He said the State has chalked out an action plan for the vaccination drive for six days a week. For ensuring effective implementation of the vaccination drive, the entire government machinery should be involved. Stating that the Centre has no objection to simultaneous conduct of vaccination drive and polls, he, however, said the first preference was for the vaccination drive.
Arguing on behalf of the SEC, senior advocate B Adinarayana Rao said the election process has commenced and as per the Supreme Court ruling, courts cannot interfere at this juncture. He said it is the constitutional responsibility of the SEC to conduct polls. He said even if the State government does not cooperate, the SEC is ready to heed to the directions of the High Court. He also objected to aspersions cast by the government on SEC Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar and making him a respondent in the case in his individual capacity. Rao argued that vaccination is only for 3.7 lakh frontline workers and not to all. He urged the division bench to vacate the stay order issued by the single judge bench.