In March, due to the looming pandemic, the process to conduct the gram panchayat elections in Andhra had to be abruptly halted. On Tuesday, the Andhra Pradesh State Election Commission has decided to conduct the election in February 2021. The SEC says there are no legal impediments for the process.
The SEC Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar also asked the state Chief Secretary Nilam Sawhney to keep the process of reorganisation of districts on hold till the completion of the elections to local bodies. â€śSince the poll process was underway, the proposed reorganisation should not be taken up,â€ť the SEC said in a letter to the Chief Secretary. The process to conduct elections to local bodies was abruptly halted midway in March this year following the COVID-19 surge.
However, the SEC did not make any mention about the impending elections to mandal and zilla parishads, the other two tiers of the Panchayat Raj system, and also the urban local bodies.
The Commission had decided to hold elections to Gram Panchayats in February 2021 as these elections are long overdue and there are no legal impediments for holding it at present, Ramesh Kumar said. The actual schedule will be finalised in due consultation with the state government and duly notified only thereafter, he added.
The SEC directed the government to take "necessary preparatory action in every respect" to hold elections in a risk-free manner as well as freely and fairly.
In the proceedings, Ramesh Kumar pointed out to the Chief Secretaryâ€™s submission to the SEC that "this is not the opportune time to hold elections and the government is concerned about a second wave (of COVID-19)."
He, however, reminded that political parties (barring the ruling YSRC) "expressed consensus overwhelmingly" in favour of holding elections but with adequate safeguards.
Patting the government and the 'frontline healthcare-givers', the SEC observed that their efforts had borne fruit and the (coronavirus) infections came down to below 2,000 from a high of 10,000 (a day) and for the first time even registered less than 1,000.
"Taking due cognizance of the prevailing situation on ground, the Commission has arrived at a well-considered view to hold elections, which cannot be postponed indefinitely due to the Constitutional obligation. This was also the averment made by the Commission before the High Court (in a pending public interest litigation)," the SEC noted.
"There are no legal impediments coming in the way of elections to the Gram Panchayats, which are an important constituent of local bodies if not the most important.
Besides, the holding of elections, which are much delayed, removes any possible hurdles now or in future in the process of releasing of Finance Commission-mandated funds, wherein holding of elections is a prerequisite," Ramesh Kumar maintained.
The SEC directed the Panchayat Raj Principal Secretary to firm up the list of Gram Panchayats, with particular reference to exemption sought if any, and also look into the reservations already finalized.
He also directed the police department to take cognizance of sensitive polling stations "in the context of changing ground situation" to hold peaceful and violence-free elections.
(With IANS inputs)