The Election Commission is singularly responsible for the second wave of Covid and should probably be booked for murder, the Madras High Court observed today in the sharpest criticism yet of crowded campaigns for the five state polls that continued in the middle of raging virus cases. The court has threatened to stop the counting of votes on Sunday if a "blueprint" is not in place.
The Election Commission will react after it sees the order, sources say.
"Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of COVID-19. Your officers should be booked on murder charges probably," the Madras High Court told the Election Commission.
The election body had failed to enforce Covid safety rules like masks, sanitisers and distancing during campaigning despite court orders, said the High Court.
"Were you on another planet when the election rallies were held," Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee questioned.
The High Court also asked for a plan to enforce Covid rules on May 2 - the day of the results - by Friday. Without it, the counting could also be stopped, said the High Court.
"Public health is paramount. Distressing that constitutional authorities ought to be reminded. It is only when a citizen survives that he'll be able to enjoy the rights that a democratic republic guarantees," the court said.
Orders are expected later today. The High Court was hearing a petition by Tamil Nadu Transport Minister MR Vijayabaskar seeking Covid compliance in counting halls in Karur constituency, from where he contested.
Covid cases have exploded alongside elections held in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. Today, India reported 3.52 lakh cases and 2,812 deaths in 24 hours, another grim record.
The Election Commission stopped roadshows and rallies and limited public meetings to 500 people last Thursday, with just three more rounds of voting left in Bengal's record eight-phase election and all other states done with the vote.
Shortly before the election body's order, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that he was cancelling his campaign visit to Bengal the next day because of a Covid meeting. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who also restricted her campaign soon after, questioned why the Election Commission had waited till the PM's announcement to impose Covid curbs on campaigning.
She also hit out at the Election Commission for rejecting her repeated appeals to club the last few rounds of voting in Bengal.