The Election Commission of India (ECI) said on Tuesday it was postponing the Rajya Sabha polls scheduled for March 26 in the wake of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak to “prevent a health hazard”.
Elections were to be held for 18 Upper House across seven assemblies — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya and Gujarat — in the latest round of indirect elections for the 245-member council of states. Of the 55 seats that feel vacant, 37 members were elected unopposed.
The decision was taken at a meeting attended by election commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra.
“The situation because of Covid-19 mandates that we shouldn’t put MLAs in a congregation. The decision has been taken independently by the commission and will be up for review once the situation improves,” said a senior EC official who asked not to be named.
“We have decided to defer the polls as the situation is not conducive for them,” a second senior EC official told Hindustan Times. “We will review the decision after March 31,” he added.
The first official said that this round of elections will be conducted separately from the next round of Rajya Sabha polls due in June. “The two will not be clubbed together,” he said.
In a press release issued by ECI, it said the decision was being taken in view of the health risks posed by Covid-19.
“Commission has reviewed in detail the matter. The prevailing unforeseen situation of public health emergency indicates the need for avoidance of possibilities of gatherings of any nature, which expose all concerned to possible health hazard,” the release said.
“The poll process in the above said elections would necessarily include the gathering of polling officials, agents of political parties, support officials and members of respective Legislative Assemblies on the poll day, which may not be suitable in view of the prevailing unforeseen situation and related advisories in the country,” it added.
The Commission has invoked Article 153 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, under which the commission “for reasons which it considers sufficient, may extend the time for the completion of any election by making necessary amendments”. In accordance with its provisions, EC has “deferred the poll and extended the period of said election under the provisions of Section 153 of the Act”.