HC puts off hearing on Ramesh Kumar case to tomorrow

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The High Court on Monday postponed the hearing on the affidavit filed by Nimmagadda. Ramesh Kumar, who was removed by the AP government through the promulgation of an ordinance

After hearing the arguments that lasted for more than five hours, the High Court has postponed the hearing to tomorrow. Today’s proceedings took place within the court premises unlike the previous hearings which were conducted via video-conferecing.

The AG informed the court that the petitioner Ramesh Kumar took the decision to defer the civic polls without consulting the State government officials concerned. The AG asserted that the ordinance amending the AP Panchayat Raj Act was issued as part of electoral reforms. Further, the AG argued that the State government brought in the Ordinance under Article 243 (K) of the Constitution. The government contended that under Article 243 (K) (2), tenure of the SEC doesn’t come under service conditions and argued that it was well within its rights to take a decision on the SEC.

Ramesh Kumar argued that the SEC had the discretionary powers to defer the elections to civic bodies and was under no obligation to reveal the factors that led to the postponement of the elections. Hearing the arguements of both the sides, the High Court asked if the state government amended the municipal act. “If you have not amended the municipal act, it means Ramesh Kumar continues to be the state election commissioner?,” the court asked the AG.

More than 13 petitions were filed challenging the government’s decision to remove Ramesh Kumar through an ordinance which had reduced the tenure of the SEC to three years from five years. Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan approved the the ordinance, amending the AP Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, thereby curtailing the SEC’s tenure from five to three years and also appointing a retired High Court judge Kanagaraj to the post.

The ordinance was challenged by former ministers Vadde Sobhanadreeswara Rao, Kamineni Srinivas, CPI state secretary K Ramakrishna and an advocate Yogesh, also filed petitions challenging the ordinance and the removal of the SEC. Subsequently, the Andhra Pradesh High Court directed the state government to file an affidavit on the removal of N Ramesh Kumar as the SEC.

Leader of Opposition and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu condemned the ousting of Ramesh Kumar as SEC, stating that Ramesh Kumar had saved people’s lives by postponing the local body polls in view of the pandemic.

In his 17-page counter affidavit, Ramesh Kumar argued that it was factually incorrect that the ordinance was brought in as part of the electoral reforms. In fact, the ordinance was issued with the mala fide intention to remove him for allegedly not consulting the government before announcing deferment of the civic polls and for taking certain other decisions that were not to its liking.

Ramesh Kumar was removed as SEC upon the promulgation of the ordinance and was quickly replaced by Kanagaraj, retired judge, Madras High Court

In the counter affidavit, Ramesh Kumar cited the reasons that led to the decision to postpone the elections. Ramesh Kumar contended that the decision was taken in the larger interest of public health after the Union government declared the Covid-19 outbreak a national disaster. He argued that the decision was taken under extraordinary circumstances and after due consultations with all stakeholder and that the SEC has powers on par with the Election Commission of India as per Sections 243K and 243ZA of the Constitution of India and Section 7 of Municipal Act to defer elections.

In the affidavit, Ramesh Kumar had argued that the state government was against a free and fair election and his response to postpone the local body elections for six weeks upon receiving complaints, led to his removal from SEC chair. Ramesh Kumar also citied series of violent attacks against Opposition party leaders in run up to the elections, forcible prevention of Opposition party candidates from filing nominations.

On April 25, the state government asserted that it did not bring out the ordinance amending the AP Panchayat Raj Act to sack Ramesh Kumar as SEC. In an affidavit, the state government argued before the High Court that the ordinance was issued as part of electoral reforms.

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