A day after the Andhra Pradesh State Election Commission decided to conduct gram panchayat elections in February 2021, the state government has told State Election Commissioner (SEC) Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar that the time was not yet ripe for conducting the polls amid the coronavirus pandemic, and urged him to reconsider the poll panel's decision. Local body polls in the state were scheduled to be held back in March, but have been delayed due to the pandemic. With this, SEC Ramesh Kumar on Wednesday conferred with state Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan and complained against "the unconstitutional acts" of the Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy government, official sources told PTI.
Ramesh Kumar took strong exception to the stance being adopted by the state government on holding elections to the local bodies and maintained that it was "unconstitutional" and amounted to undermining the independence of a constitutional body like the SEC, the sources said.
In a letter to the SEC, state Chief Secretary Nilam Sawhney pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic and said as and when the situation became conducive for the conduct of elections to local bodies, the state government would immediately inform the poll body regarding the preparedness in resuming the adjourned process.
Official sources said the State Election Commissioner is now contemplating further course of legal action against the government in the matter.
The SEC had to cancel a scheduled video conference on Wednesday after the state government reportedly directed the district Collectors and other officials concerned not to attend it. In fact, the Chief Secretary herself told the SEC, in her letter, that it may perhaps not be necessary at present to review the preparedness for conduct of elections and said the proposed video conference was not necessary.
The confrontation between the SEC and the state government came out in the open yet again after Ramesh Kumar issued proceedings on Tuesday stating that the Commission decided to conduct elections to the gram panchayats in February 2021 as there were no legal impediments. He also wrote to the Chief Secretary in this regard.
Replying to the SECs letter, the Chief Secretary said "taking a decision for holding elections during a particular period may not be in the best interest of safety and health of the citizens of AP." It was mentioned that there was a need for us to tread the path very cautiously and to be calibrated in our approach.
The overall high positivity (of COVID-19 cases in Andhra Pradesh), the high number of active cases and the spread to rural areas have been a matter of grave concern, Sawhney said.
Pointing out that the Union Government has warned the states to be wary of the winter months, the Chief Secretary noted that we cannot afford to have another surge, having already lost 6,890 human lives.
As and when the situation became conducive for the conduct of elections to local bodies, the state government would immediately inform the SEC regarding the preparedness in resuming the adjourned process, the Chief Secretary added.
During his 40-minute meeting with the Governor, the SEC referred to the Chief Secretary's letter and noted that the state government was apparently in no mood to let a constitutional process take place.
Ramesh Kumar informed Harichandan about the pending public interest litigation in the High Court for holding elections to the local bodies and the stance taken by the SEC, official sources said.
The Andhra government and the SEC have been at loggerheads for almost a year now, each taking opposing positions with respect to rural civic body elections. In May, the state government had curtailed the SECs tenure from five to three years and appointed retired Madras High Court judge V Kanagaraj to the post. But it was annulled by the Andhra Pradesh High Court and the Supreme Court, upon which Ramesh Kumar was reinstated as the SEC later.
With inputs from PTI and IANS