EC defers bypolls for one LS, 7 assembly seats citing COVID-19, floods

Citing the COVID-19 pandemic and the onset of monsoon and flood situation, the Election Commission has deferred by-elections for one Lok Sabha and seven assembly seats and will meet on Friday to discuss about a possible schedule.

The states where the bypolls have been deferred are Bihar (Valmiki Nagar Lok Sabha seat), Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh (two assembly seats each), and Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala (one assembly seat each). Most of these seats fell vacant due to the death of sitting members.

A senior EC official said the COVID-19 pandemic and the flood situation were two reasons behind the decision.

The official said based on ground reports, the commission decided that holding of bypolls during the pandemic was not good for public health.

The onset of monsoon and flood situation in some parts of the country were another reason for the EC to defer the eight bypolls.

As district level officials would be busy handling the situation due to monsoon and floods, it would be advisable to hold the right bypolls, the official noted.

As per the electoral law, the EC has to hold by-elections within 180 days (six months) of a seat falling vacant, another official pointed out.

The six-month deadline to hold by-elections in these eight seats was ending on different dates in July, August and September respectively.

When the EC assessed the situation, it found that it is difficult to adhere to the six-month deadline in these seats, and approached the Union law ministry to defer the polls, the official said.

Under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, in certain cases, the EC, in consultation with the central government (the Union law ministry), certifies that it is difficult to hold the by-election within the six-month period.

Using this provision, the poll panel issued a certificate on July 22 to defer the elections in these eight seats.

In a statement, the Commission on Thursday said that "this matter of timing etc of by-elections is also slotted for discussion in the Election Commission meeting to be held tomorrow" (Friday).

The statement said the total number of by-elections due is 56 assembly constituencies and one Lok Sabha seat (including the eight deferred).

However, a letter written by one of its senior officers to the law ministry regarding the eight bypolls is "causing some confusion", the EC said and clarified that it was only "in respect of eight constituencies regarding which a reference to Ministry of Law and Justice was made ... due to some extraordinary circumstances peculiar to these constituencies".

Out of these total number of 57 by-elections, the Commission has already taken a decision to hold all by-election as per provisions and the deferring of these eight by-elections was only up to September 7, 2020, the statement said.

The remaining 49 bypolls are due after September.

There is a possibility, suggested an official, that all the 57 by-elections could be held in one go sometime later.

The statement had said that the eight bypolls were being deferred "due to some extraordinary circumstances peculiar to these constituencies." 
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