Amidst Coronavirus Outbreak, Andhra CM Jaganmohan Reddy Stages A Quiet Coup Replacing State Poll Panel Chief

Amidst Coronavirus Outbreak, Andhra CM Jaganmohan Reddy Stages A Quiet Coup Replacing State Poll Panel ChiefJustice V Kanagaraj. 
Snapshot
  • Justice V Kanagaraj, who practises in the Supreme Court as a senior advocate, assumed charge as SEC the same evening the incumbent was sacked, and was driven to capital Amravati within hours despite a nation-wide lockdown in force.

The Andhra Pradesh government headed by Y S Jaganmohan Reddy has replaced the State Election Commissioner (SEC) through an ordinance and has rushed to swear in the new SEC.

The move by the YSR Congress government is seen as a needless exercise at this point of time when all State governments are busy tackling the spread of Coronavirus (Covid-19).

So far, 417 persons have tested positive for the pandemic virus in the state with 360 of them being traced to the Tablighi Jamaat Aalami Markaz Nizamuddin or Banglewali Masjid congregations last month in Delhi.

The New Indian Express reported that the Reddy government issued an ordinance on Saturday (11 April) morning appointing V Kanagaraj, retired Madras High Court judge, as the SEC, replacing N Ramesh Kumar.

Seventy-five-year-old Kanagaraj, who now practices in the Supreme Court as a senior advocate, assumed charge the same evening, being driven to capital Amravati within hours despite a nation-wide lockdown being in force.

Andhra Pradesh governor Biswa Bhusan Harichandan gave his assent to the Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj (Second Amendment) Ordinance to change the tenure, eligibility, and method of appointment of the SEC on 10 April.

The ordinance, which stipulates that a retired High Court judge only can hold the SEC’s post, gives the authority a status at par with a High Court judge and the tenure will be for three years, which could be extended further.

Experts feel that the process to remove the SEC could now be similar to that of a High Court judge. The Reddy government move comes on the heels of its spat with Kumar.

The Andhra Pradesh government and Kumar were locked in a tussle after the latter put off the elections to local bodies following the onset of the pandemic Covid-19. Unhappy over the development, the YSR Congress Party government petitioned the Supreme Court.

The apex court upheld the decision to postpone the local bodies’ polls but asked the SEC to lift the model code of conduct for elections.

Following this, Kumar alleged that he faced threats to his life, which was sort of pointing fingers at the Reddy government.

The YSR Congress Party alleges bias against it by Kumar, who was appointed by the previous N Chandrababu Naidu government. The latest move, coming when the priority is to tackle Coronavirus, will likely lead to more rift between the ruling party and the Opposition.

On his part, Kumar has moved the Andhra Pradesh government seeking a stay against the ordinance. He alleged that the state government had acted with haste as he had postponed the polls to the local bodies.

He has argued that the state election panel is an autonomous body and changing the service rules is illegal.

Kanagaraj, who is a senior counsel for Haryana, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu governments in the Supreme Court, has termed his appointment legal, though.

Both sides are relying on a two-bench ruling in an Allabahad High Court judgement in 2007.

Each party is looking at the observations of each judge, though they upheld the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Uttar Pradesh government decision to prune the SEC term to five years from seven.

Opponents of Reddy government are relying on clause, 243 K of the Constitution that says “conditions of service cannot be varied to the disadvantage of the SEC after his appointment”.

The state government feels that “prescription of tenure of office is not a condition of service and once the change in tenure leads to "disqualification", there is an automatic cessation from holding office.

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