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Was EC unanimous in seeking court order to gag media? Report says 'No'

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CEC Sushil Chandra (left) and EC Rajiv Kumar
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CEC Sushil Chandra (left) and EC Rajiv Kumar. (Courtesy : Indian Express)

New Delhi: One of the three Election Commissioners was reported to have made a strong objection to the Commission's decision to make a plea seeking a gag on media and subsequent Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court.

The report published in The Indian Express is reportedly showing the split among Commissioners in conducting elections during the pandemic.

The EC filed an affidavit in the Madras High Court, seeking a court order to refrain media from publishing the court's oral remarks against the Commission. It also made a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court against the Madras High Court's "murder-charges" remark.

The report said that the Commissioner, who opposed both the submissions, was not happy with the contents of the affidavit filed in the Madras High Court, which in turn suggested that the decision to move court was not unanimously approved by the Commission.

The poll watchdog has been under a harsh glare over its handling of the Assembly elections in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Puducherry with parties, mainly the Trinamool Congress, accusing it of being biased in favour of the Centre.

On April 26, the Madras High Court came down heavily on the EC for "not stopping political parties" from violating Covid protocols during their campaign rallies last month. In its oral observations, the HC lamented that perhaps murder charges should be imposed on the panel for being "the only institution responsible for the situation that we are in today".

Despite the TMC and the Congress petitions urging the EC to end campaigning or reschedule the dates given the Covid spread, the EC put curbs as late as April 22, just an hour after Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled his four rallies scheduled there the next day.

After the Madras HC censure, the EC put measures in place for the day of counting on May 2, including mandatory testing of all candidates and their counting agents and a ban on victory processions.

However, the Commission also went back to the Madras High Court with a plea seeking directions to be issued to the media to confine their reports to observations recorded in orders or judgments and refrain from reporting oral statements made during court proceedings since the remarks had caused it grave prejudice. The HC didn't entertain the plea.

The poll watchdog eventually went to the apex court last week against the Madras HC's remarks, which it described as "uncalled for, blatantly disparaging and derogatory". The High Court, which is an independent Constitutional authority, had made "serious allegations of murder on another independent constitutional authority (ECI) without any basis, which has ultimately dented both the institutions", the Commission said in its plea to SC.

In its SLP, the EC said that the oral comments made by judges during a hearing were reported as the "views of the Court", which amounts to "undermining the Constitutional authority of the Hon'ble Court" as some see the court as "exceeding the boundaries of judicial propriety."

Hearing the matter Monday, the apex court said that the observations made by judges while hearing cases are in the "larger public interest" and the media cannot be stopped from reporting them.

Justice M R Shah remarked that "sometimes when something is observed, it is for the larger public interest. They (judges) are also human beings. Sometimes they are frustrated, angered." Asking the Commission to take it in the "right spirit", he added that "your subsequent decisions after the remarks, matter".

The SC's order in this matter is expected Thursday.

After Sunil Arora's retirement as Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) on April 12, the three-member Commission has Sushil Chandra as CEC and Rajiv Kumar as Election Commissioner. The position of the third EC is vacant.

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TAGS:Election commission of India 
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