COVID-19: HC asks Centre, EC to respond to plea for debarring poll campaigners without masks

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New Delhi, Mar 22 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Monday sought response of the Centre and the Election Commission on a plea seeking to debar campaigners and candidates from campaigning in the upcoming assembly elections for repeatedly violating the mandatory guidelines issued by the poll panel in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh issued notice to the Centre and the Election Commission (EC) on the petition and asked them to reply to the plea.

The court listed the matter for further hearing on April 30.

At the outset, advocate Sidhant Kumar, representing the poll panel, raised preliminary objection on the maintainability of the petition and said neither the elections are being held in Delhi nor the alleged violation took place here.

The Centre was represented through advocate Anurag Ahluwalia.

The assembly elections in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry are scheduled to be held in various phases, starting from March 27 and will conclude on April 29.

Advocate Virag Gupta, representing petitioner Vikram Singh, said that while announcing the elections, the EC in its notification has mandated that “every person shall wear face mask during every election related activity”.

The plea, filed through advocate Gaurav Pathak, said there are instances wherein campaigners and their supporters are not wearing masks while campaigning for the elections, and photos and videos showing the same are replete across electronic and print media and on many occasions shared by the campaigners themselves.

The petition said every person has the fundamental right to life, which is being impacted by political leaders, campaigners and candidates not wearing the masks during the election process.

Once the poll body has mandated compulsory wearing of masks, it is duty bound to ensure strict compliance of the same, it said.

“Accordingly, the petitioner sent a representation dated March 11, 2021, asking the EC to take strict action against star campaigners of different political parties to ensure that mandatory masking is effectively followed by one and all during the election period.

“The petitioner sought that the EC should debar such campaigners and candidates from campaigning in the election 'either permanently or for a stipulated, sufficiently long, period', if they repeatedly violate the mandatory masking guidelines,” it said.

It added that the failure to not wear a mask invites penalty as well as criminal prosecution and pointed out that on many occasions, it has been observed that the general public is arbitrarily penalised for non-wearing of masks, while the high and mighty get away scot free.

“Campaigners from Delhi also go to these elections to campaign for their party's candidate, and criss-cross the country to campaign in every poll-bound state. That when such campaigners from all political parties are not wearing masks, not only they put themselves at risk, but also the common public at large.

“As election rallies are attended by thousands of persons, even a single COVID-19 positive person can cause the event to become a super spreader,” the plea submitted, adding that the EC has issued the necessary directive but is failing to implement the same.

The plea also referred to a suo motu cognisance taken by the high court on not wearing masks properly in flights and issued directions. As a result, standard operating procedures (SOP) have been issued and strict action has been initiated against unruly passengers.

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