Allahabad HC asks for CCTV footage from UP panchayat poll counting areas to monitor Covid infections

ILNS: The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday sought CCTV footage of the designated counting areas in order to assess the culpability of the Election Commission with respect to 135 people who succumbed to the Covid-19 virus days after performing election duties in Uttar Pradesh.

The division bench of Justices Siddhartha Varma and Ajit Kumar passed this order while hearing a PIL filed by in ‘Inhuman Condition at quarantine Centres and for providing better treatment to Covid Positive.

In its previous order, the court took notice of the death of 135 teachers, Shiksha Mitras and Investigators, who were posted on election duty during the recent phases of Panchayat elections in the state.

“In the Affidavit filed on behalf of State Election Commission in response to our order dated April 27, 2021 in which the court had asked for explanation from it in respect of deaths of the polling agents and officers that had taken place due to their getting infected by this deadly virus Covid-19, we find that except seeking a verification from the District Magistrates/ District Election Officers of all the districts vide letter dated 28th April, 2021, nothing more has been done,” the court said.

Tarun Agrawal, while defending the action of the State Election Commission, submitted that the Commission was not shirking away from its responsibility to comply with the order and sought time as the response to the letter dated April 28, 2021 was still awaited.

"From the recitals as have come up in the letter dated April 28, 2021, we find that emphasis was more upon the correctness of the news item of which we had taken judicial notice than verifying the number of deaths. We make it clear that any slackness on the part of the Election Commission on this issue will not be tolerated," the court observed.

The Court stated: “We have been informed that even during the counting of polls of Gram Panchayal Elections of the State that had taken place on April 29, 2021 and onwards, the Covid protocol and guidelines were definitely flouted. People gathered in huge numbers at the counting centres and both the Election Officers and Police administration had completely failed to ensure the compliance of Covid guidelines.”

The Court directed the State Election Commission to “produce before us the CCTV footage of the designated counting areas and centres both in the form the footage print and also Pen Drive by the next date fixed, in the first instance relating District Lucknow, Prayagraj, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Ghaziabad, Meerut, Gautambudh Nagar and Agra.”

The Court has made it clear that if the Commission itself finds from the CCTV footage that there has been violation of the Covid- 19 protocol and guidelines, it should come up with action plan in that regard.

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"We also find that due to inadvertence District Judge, Meerut was not directed to appoint Nodal Officer. Therefore, we direct the District Judge, Meerut also to appoint any Judicial officer as Nodal officer in his District in compliance of our order dated April 27, 2021 and place the report before us by the next date fixed," the Court ordered.

"The matter is adjourned and is directed to come up again on May 07, 2021 at 11:00 am. It is expected that both Manish Goyal, Additional Advocate General and Tarun Agrawal, counsel for the State Election Commission shall come up with comprehensive compliance affidavit in respect of our order passed on April 27, 2021", the Court said