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However, in a victory for the ruling YSRCP, it allowed a partial relaxation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

Setback for Jagan SC upholds decision to postpone Andhra local body pollsFile Photo
news Elections Wednesday, March 18, 2020 - 16:48

In a setback to the Andhra Pradesh government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the State Election Commission’s (SEC) decision to postpone the local body elections in the state, in view of the COVID-19 outbreak. The court was hearing a plea filed by the state government, challenging the SEC’s order to postpone the elections by 6 weeks. 

However, according to reports, the SC has allowed a partial relaxation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which had already come into place, and which the SEC intended to continue over the 6 weeks for which the election process had been postponed. 

The SC ruled that the SEC must consult the state government before notifying the new dates for the polls, and reimpose the MCC four weeks ahead of the fresh date of polling.

The state government had strongly objected to the SEC’s decision, with Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy alleging that the coronavirus outbreak was being used as an ‘excuse’ to delay elections and prolong the period for which the SEC held power, under the directions of Leader of Opposition Chandrababu Naidu. 

An SC lawyer who was present at the hearing, told media that the court stated that since the COVID-19 outbreak is a critical situation, the SEC has the authority to use its discretionary powers to postpone the elections. However, the MCC has reportedly been relaxed. “Existing schemes which are already in place can continue. But in order to implement new schemes, the government will have to consult with the SEC. The court said that no new freebies, which could be used to attract voters, can be implemented,” the lawyer said. 

This leaves ambiguous the status of the government’s flagship housing program ‘Pedalandiriki Illu.’ A day before the postponement of elections was announced, the SEC had barred the government from proceeding with its program of distributing the ‘pattas’, or title deeds to nearly 25 lakh beneficiaries of the housing scheme. The distribution of the pattas earlier scheduled for March 25.  

However, the state government may attempt to go ahead with the distribution program, as the scheme itself was announced long before the MCC came into place.

Since the MCC had come into place on March 7, the SEC said that the government cannot announce new schemes, or implement old ones, in a way that would influence votes and impact the election outcomes. 

The SEC had said that elections must be postponed as coronavirus posed a major threat to public health. Observing that voters will have to gather in large numbers, with  some of them returning from Telangana to cast their vote, the SEC said that the long queues and use of paper ballots increased chances of human contact. 

The CM and Chief Secretary, however, had claimed that the COVID-19 situation in the state is under control, and will remain so for 3-4 weeks.

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