The Supreme Court has refused to entertain a petition challenging a Maharashtra government order dated April 6, 2021 for elections to be held for the Kolhapur Zilla Sahakari Dudh Utpadak Sangh Maryadit under the aegis of the state co-operative election authority. (RAVINDRA DATTATRAY PATIL & ANR. Vs STATE OF MAHARASHTRA & ORS.)
The bench of Justices U.U. Lalit and Hrishikesh Roy said, “If the State-machinery has decided to go ahead with the election process in respect of certain societies including respondent No.7- Federation, no fault can therefore, be attributed to the actions taken by the State-machinery.”
“In any case, considering the facts that only last two stages in the election process are to be undertaken and that there are just about 3650 voters constituting the electoral power, we see no reason to entertain this petition but we issue following directions, which in our considered view will meet the ends of justice.
(a) Instead of 35 voting centres covering 12 Talukas of the district, we direct Respondent No.3- Authority to have as many as 70 voting centres. It is entirely upto Respondent No.3-Authority to fix the location of these voting centres considering the exigencies of the situation.
(b) The entire election process will be conducted strictly in accordance with the protocol established under various directions issued by the concerned authorities including the State Government during Covid-19 Pandamic and Respondent Nos. 1 to 3 shall strictly go by those norms and protocol.
(c) Strict vigil shall be maintained by Respondent Nos. 1 to 3 and no congregation of people shall be permitted in any manner.”
The Court further added that “These directions are passed in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the instant case, considering the number of electors and the fact that only last two stages of the election process remain to be undertaken and to ensure that the electoral process is undertaken smoothly.”
During the hearing Ld. Sr. Counsel Maninder Singh, appearing for the Petitioner contended that the situation of covid Pandemic is at its all time peak in this Second wave, there is a surge in Covid cases. And looking at the current scenario of COVID surge, provision to postpone election should be considered as there is a huge shortage of hospitals beds, medicnes, oxygen is not available, situation is very alarming. And considering all these scenario conducting elections of the Co-operative society should be postponed till August 31, 2021.
Ld. Sr. Counsel also contended that the Respondents are taking undue advantage and trying to manupulate the order passed by Bombay HC, whereby it has been alleged by the Respondents that HC has directed to compulsory hold the election where as the HC ordered to expedite the process of elections at the time the situation was completely different. It has been contende that there was no such peremptory directions issued by the High Court Situation is so alarming after the secomd wave of Covid, it is a matter of life and death, State governments are going to put blame on the High Court in the end.
Ld. Sr. Counsel N.S. Nadkarni appearing for intervenors requested the bench that today’s situation is at worse, hold the election till at least June-July till situation improves. Kolhapur is at brink right now & not holding the elections and postponing will be the best decision.
Ld. Sr. Counsel Ravi Kadam, appearing for Respondent No. 1 to 3 contended that it has been ordered by Bombay High Court to expedite the process of elections, & they are just abiding by the High Court’s order. The total no. of electors are merely 3650 & there are as many as 35 voting centre in total of 12 talukas.
Ld, Sr. Counsel for the respondents also contended that all the process of election is already done except for the last 2 stages of polling (actual voting) & counting. The no. of electors for elections to Respondent No. 7 federation are around 3650 and at present condition 35 polling centre are there in 12 talukas. And requested the bench to consider increasing number of polling stations but to allow conducting the elections as only polling and counting are remaining .
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The Supreme Court bench said, “It must be stated at the outset that the orders dated 10.02.2021 and 11.02.2021 were passed in the month of February, 2021 when the second wave of Covid-19 Pandemic had not flared up and the situation was comparatively quite normal. Though the orders did not direct peremptorily that the elections be held by a particular date, there was a positive direction to proceed with the election process expeditiously.”