The State Election Commission issued Notification No. 68/SEC-B 1/2020, Dt.07.03.2020 for the conduct of ordinary elections to MPTCs and ZPTCs in the State. As per the election schedule, the list of contesting candidates was published in all MPTCs and ZPTCs, where there is a contest, on 14.03.2020 and the poll is scheduled in those constituencies on 21.03.2020. In the MPTCs and ZPTCs, where only one candidate remained in fray, the result was declared as ‘unanimous’ on 14.03.2020.
The State Election Commission also issued Notification Nos. 76/SEC-Fl/2020-1 & 2, Dt.09.03.2020•, 77/SEC-F1/2020-1 & 2, Dt.09.03.2020•, 78/SEC-Fl/2020-1 & 2, Dt.09.03.2020; and 79/SEC-F2/2020, Dt.09.03.2020 for conduct of ordinary elections to (12) Municipal Corporations and (75) Municipalities and Nagar Panchayats in the State. The process of scrutiny of nominations was completed on 14.03.2020 and the poll is scheduled on 23.03.2020.
The State Election Commission has already announced the schedule on 07.03.2020 for conduct of ordinary elections to Gram Panchayats in two phases and the Notification for Phase-I is to be given on 15.03.2020 and the Notification for Phase-Il on 17.03.2020.
In the meeting held with the political parties on 06.03.2020, several political parties requested the Commission to consider postponement of elections to local bodies as there is outbreak of COVID-19 in several parts of the country and public gatherings take place in every local body for meetings, rallies, etc., throughout the election period. The Commissioner expressed that he will assess the situation at regular intervals during the election process and intervene, if the situation so warrants.
Several Northern States have already taken measures against large scale congregations in schools and public places. In the neighbouring State of Telangana, the Cabinet decided on 14.03.2020 to close all schools, cinema halls, malls, etc., and also warned against public gatherings in huge numbers, so as to tackle the spread of deadly CO VID-19. In the neighbouring State of Karnataka also, there is a high alert by way of closure of schools and malls, etc.
The State Election Commissioner also took inputs from the senior health functionaries who have indicated that health safeguards may be put in place immediately to avoid large public gatherings to contain its possible spread. The Government of India had earlier issued an advisory cautioning the States vis-a-vis large congregations to be avoided. In the latest containment measure, it has declared the outbreak in the country a ‘notified disaster.
The State Election Commission took into consideration the movement of large number of voters from Hyderabad and Telangana region to various local bodies in the State of Andhra Pradesh from 15.03.2020 when campaigning starts for MPTC/ZPTC elections so as to cast their votes in elections to local bodies which are held one after another till the end of the month. A rural voter has to cast four votes for MPTC, ZPTC, Sarpanch and Ward Member on two poll days. An urban voter has to cast one vote on the poll day in a single phase. There may be large scale movement of voters into the State from the neighbouring States of Telangana, Karnataka, Odisha and Tamil Nadu to participate in local body elections, which are keenly fought.
Taking due consideration of emerging challenges posed by Corona Virus spread, the State Election Commission is of the firm view that continuing with the election schedule may be detrimental and harmful for the public health at large due to spread of COVID-19 to various parts of the country including Telangana and Karnataka where a health alert was given.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in its landmark judgment in Kishan Singh Tomar Vs. The Municipal Corporation of the City of Ahmedabad in Appeal (Civil) No. 5756 of 2005 dated 19.10.2006 that the elections can be postponed for genuine supervening difficulties and exceptional circumstances, such as natural calamities like floods, earthquake or manmade calamities like rioting or break down of law and order till the normalcy is restored.
The State Election Commission decided to exercise its plenary powers under Articles 243K and 243ZA of the Constitution of India to put on hold the election process of MPTCs/ZPTCs, Municipal Corporations, Municipalities and Nagar Panchayats with immediate effect for a period of (6) weeks or till the threat of spread of COVID-19 is arrested or declined and normalcy is restored facilitating public gatherings for conduct of elections. The election process will be continued from the stage where it is stopped in respect of MPTCs/ZPTCs and Urban Local Bodies and will be completed following the relevant provisions of law.
Now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred under Articles 243K and 243ZA of the Constitution of India, the State Election Commission, hereby, order that
l) all further election process in connection with conduct of elections to MPTCs and ZPTCs in pursuance of State Election Commission’s Notification No. 68/SEC-B 1/2020, Dt.07.03.2020 shall be stopped forthwith;
2) all further election process in connection with conduct of elections to Municipal Corporations, Municipalities and Nagar Panchayats in pursuance of State Election Commission’s Notification Nos. 76/SEC-F1/2020-1 & 2, Dt.09.03.2020•, 77/SECFl/2020-1 & 2, Dt.09.03.2020•, 78/SEC-F1/2020-1 & 2, Dt.09.03.2020; and 79/SECF2/2020, Dt.09.03.2020 shall be stopped forthwith;
3) the election process of MPTCs, ZPTCs and Urban Local Bodies will be continued after (6) weeks from now or after the threat of COV ID-19 recedes, whichever is earlier; and 4) the schedules already announced for Gram Panchayat elections are kept in abeyance until further orders.