The media cannot be stopped from reporting any court hearing and "must report fully" what happens in court, the Supreme Court said today as the Election Commission complained about being "castigated without any evidence" when the Madras High Court last week remarked that the poll body should be "booked for murder" for not stopping political rallies in the Covid emergency
"Something is observed in the larger public interest. The Election Commission should treat it as a bitter pill in the right spirit," the judges said.
The Election Commission last week approached the Supreme Court against what it called "blatantly disparaging remarks" by the Madras High Court over holding polls amid the deadly second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Madras High Court on April 26 said the Election Commission "should probably be booked for murder" for allowing crowded election campaigns and was "singularly responsible" for the current Covid spike. But these observations did not make it to the final order, which said "at no cost can counting become a catalyst for a further surge".
The Election Commission's petition before the Supreme Court says the remarks "dented the institution" and asks that the media be stopped from reporting observations. It also points at the role of the government, which is significant as the government has often shifted the responsibility of enforcing Covid safety rules to the election body.
"Without any opportunity (given) to the Election Commission or any reply being sought from officers responsible under the Disaster Management Act, we have been castigated," the election body argued today.
Lawyer Rakesh Dwivedi, representing the Election Commission, said it was the government under the Disaster Management Authority that had to manage the rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister (E Palaniswami) and "they committed the breach" but the Commission had been castigated even though its officials suffered Covid and had the tough task of conducting elections.
The Supreme Court replied that the Election Commission is the constitutional authority to conduct elections. "We cannot in today's time say that media will not report the contents of court hearing. Discussions taking place in the High Court have equal public interest as the final order of the court," it said.
Justice DY Chandrachud said: "We don't want to demoralise our High Courts. They are vital pillars of the judiciary. Sometimes a free-flowing dialogue takes place in the court and judges make observations... You cannot control how judges will conduct proceedings."
High Court judges are at liberty to ask inconvenient questions, Justice Chandrachud asserted. But he added: "Speaking for myself - I would not have used the words of Madras High Court."
The Election Commission countered that it was "a conclusion not a dialogue" and the observations were not in the final order.
"Everything cannot be put in the order? It is a human process," responded Justice MR Shah.
The Supreme Court will pronounce an order later this week.