Chennai: Days after the Madras High Court pulled up the Election Commission for its role in causing the spread of coronavirus, the Commission on Friday moved the Madras High Court, pleading that the media be restrained from reporting the oral observation of judges about its performance. The court turned down the plea.
The ECI's counsel cited the stinging comments of the High Court to the extent of threatening it with murder charges against the ECI officials and pleaded that the comments as reported by the press have caused great damage to its image.
The first bench refused to restrain the media, both electronic and print, from publishing the oral observations of the judges relating to the role of EC in holding elections to four states and the Union Territory of Puducherry in the country during the pandemic's second wave.
"Let us leave that (matter) at it," was the reply of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy when the matter with regard to lapses in procuring COVID-19 vaccines, providing beds and ventilators and the alleged diversion of oxygen cylinders to other states came up again on Friday. The bench however gave certain clarifications of its stance and the rationale behind its observations.
"The post-mortem on either count may have to wait, particularly in the light of immediate measures that may be put in place," the CJ quipped when the EC senior counsel submitted that the media is to be restrained from sensationalising the issue.
The ECI pointed out the difficulty of conducting elections during difficult times. However, based on the observations of the courts, certain people have approached the police with complaints and the latter had filed FIRs too, the EC counsel said and prayed for some protection.
However, the bench did not take the plea into consideration for any restraining action: "The courts concerned would take care of such frivolous complaints being filed against the ECI... lets not play a blame game," the CJ said.
The court had taken up the matter not to issue directions by presuming itself as an expert on the subject of handling COVID-19, but the focus was to make the governments act on the basis of experts' advice.
"We are the first to accept that we may not be qualified to take a call," the CJ added.
Additional Solicitor General R Sankaranarayanan told the bench that till December last year, the Covid-19 curve was flattening and in January it was fine. Only thereafter, the surge was noticed in Maharashtra and Kerala.
A high-level team was dispatched to Kerala to aid public health interventions for covid management. The Centre has done whatever was needed, the ASG said.
The ECI sought a direction to the press and visual media, which had reported the oral comments, to issue a clarification. It also wanted a direction to the police to not register any case on the basis of criminal complaints being filed against EC officials in the light of the oral observations.
The background of ECI's plea is the Madras High Court's comments on Monday holding the Election Commission accountable for the COVID-19 second wave in the country, holding it 'singularly' responsible for the spread. The bench called it "the most irresponsible institution" and even said its officials may be booked under murder charges.
(Based on PTI feed with minor edits)