The Madras High Court on Friday dismissed three PILs seeking to reschedule the April 18 Lok Sabha polls for Tamil Nadu in view of religious festivals and events, saying only in the rarest of rare cases could it interfere in the Election Commission schedule.
Referring to several Supreme Court judgements, a division bench comprising Justices S Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad said, “The apex court has made it clear that Article 324(1) is a plenary provision vesting the whole responsibility of national and state elections on the Election Commission of India (ECI)... the commission has to comprehend the process of election in the entire country, while conducting the elections for Parliament.”
It has to take into account the selection of booths, movement of para-military forces throughout the country and several other factors, the court said. Once the election schedule is fixed, it should not be interfered with, unless some event occurs which was not in the contemplation of the election commission.
“It is well settled that the writ court should not ordinarily, except in rarest of rare cases, interfere with the schedule fixed by the ECI, while exercising its jurisdiction, under Article 226 of the Constitution.
The bench said the EC has explained the steps taken for the smooth and free elections, taking note of the difficulties presumably felt by the petitioners and given instructions to the district election officers to consider the representations, if any made, and to redress the same.
Since the polling is fixed on a Thursday (April 18), it is expected that the EC would take adequate steps to ensure that people are allowed to pray in churches situated adjacent to the polling booths without any hindrance, the court said.
It was also the duty of every citizen to co-operate in the election process. State Chief Electoral Officer Satyabrata Sahoo had submitted on Thursday that the Election Commission was the sole authority to decide the dates for elections after taking into account relevant factors and courts have no jurisdiction to interfere with it.
He said the Supreme Court in various judgments had held that the framing of schedule or calendar for election was in the exclusive domain of the EC.
The occurrence of a religious festival or season was a routine and common in the country and elections cannot be deferred solely on this ground, the counter had said and sought dismissal of the petitions.
“It is pertinent to mention that even festivals like Ramzan, Good Friday and Mahavir Jayanthi also occur during election season and the press note announcing the elections have specifically mentioned that the schedule has been drawn after considering this aspect also,” Sahoo said.
A Madurai-based advocate in his PIL had sought change in the polling date, saying it clashed with the famous ‘Chitirai’ festival there that draws lakhs of devotees from five southern districts of Tamil Nadu and hence, would affect polling percentage.
Archbishop Antony Pappusamy, president of the Tamil Nadu Bishops Council, and S Inigo Irudayaraj, Managing Trustee of a Christian forum here, have also sought rescheduling of the election date, citing it fell during the ‘Easter Triduum’, a key religious event for Christians.