AP HC adjourns hearing on SEC appeal against stay on panchayat poll

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Amaravati, Jan 12 (PTI) The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Tuesday deferred to January 18 the hearing of an appeal filed by the State Election Commission (SEC) against a single judge bench order suspending the schedule of elections to gram panchayats on grounds it would hamper COVID-19 vaccination programme.

A division bench comprising justices U Durga Prasad and Krishna Mohan conducted a preliminary hearing on the SECs appeal but it remained inconclusive.

Since the court will be on Sankranti vacation from Wednesday, the appeal will be taken up for further hearing in the regular course on the January 18, sources said.

Passing orders on a plea by the state government, Judge M Ganga Rao on Monday suspended the schedule announced by the SEC for conducting elections to gram panchayats in four phases next month, observing it would hamper the COVID-19 vaccination programme, set to begin on January 16.

The SEC immediately filed an appeal before the division bench against the order, contending that it was in contradiction to the Supreme Court guidelines.

Overruling the objections raised by the government, the SEC on Friday night announced the schedule for the polls to be held on February 5, 9, 13 and 17.

State Election Commissioner Ramesh Kumar had announced the schedule hours after his meeting with Chief Secretary Aditya Nath Das and other top officials.

The state government challenged the SECs announcement saying that conduct of gram panchayat elections simultaneous to the coronavirus vaccination programme would be difficult.

Meanwhile, Ramesh Kumar called on Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan in the Raj Bhavan in Vijayawada and discussed the prevailing situation.

The SEC reportedly explained to the Governor that he announced the schedule for the gram panchayat elections since it was a Constitutional requirement and also vital to draw Central grants for the local bodies, sources said.

The SEC also informed the Governor about the appeal filed in the high court, they added.

In a related development, the SEC surrendered its Secretary G Vani Mohan to the government, saying her services were not required in the poll body.

He accordingly issued an order relieving Vani Mohan from the Secretarys post and communicated it to state Chief Secretary Aditya Nath Das.

Invoking the 'plenary powers' of the Commission, Ramesh Kumar also discharged the SECs Joint Director G V Sai Prasad from service 'to safeguard the integrity of the ongoing election process in the state'.

'Since this is not an honourable discharge, but dismissal with disgrace, Sai Prasad will not be entitled for any terminal benefits and barred from entering any other government service either directly or indirectly, the Commissioner said in a strongly worded order.

The official had gone on a month's leave without intimation after announcement of the poll schedule. PTI DBV VS VS