CEC’s reported statement that Morbi bridge collapse was a factor for delaying announcement of the dates of Gujarat elections
Smt Droupadi Murmu
President of India
Respected Rashtrapati Ji,
I refer to a statement reported to have been made by the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) on November 3, 2022 that
“Morbi bridge collapse, a factor in delay in Gujarat poll announcement…….the Model Code of Conduct guidelines have been prescribed specifically…… that the commission would also examine whether the release of the inquiry report into the Morbi tragedy, which left 135 people dead, would disturb the level playing field in the two-phase elections scheduled for Gujarat on December 1 and December 5” (https://www.deccanherald.com/national/west/morbi-bridge-collapse-a-factor-in-delay-in-gujarat-poll-announcement-cec-1159108.html).
I assume that the observations attributed to the CEC have been authentically reported.
The Commission had announced the Himachal Pradesh elections as early as on October 14 and delayed announcing the Gujarat elections till November, 3, though counting of votes in both the States would be held on December 8.
Had the Election Commission announced the dates of Gujarat elections, along with those of Himachal Pradesh elections, as it did, on October 14, the question of linking the same to the Morbi bridge tragedy would not have arisen in the first instance! For reasons best known to the Commission, it delayed announcing the dates for Gujarat elections. The Morbi bridge tragedy occurred more than a fortnight after the Commission announced the dates for elections in Himachal Pradesh.
Even assuming that the government receives the inquiry report on the Morbi tragedy well before the date of Gujarat elections, it is not clear as to how the Commission would be required to act on it on the questionable ground that it will disturb the “level playing ground” for the political parties.
The people of Gujarat and the rest of the country are anxious that the circumstances under which the Morbi bridge collapse occurred are thoroughly investigated and those responsible, directly and indirectly, prosecuted in a deterrent manner, irrespective of whether it affects the image of one political party or the other. It may not be appropriate for the Election Commission to act in any manner, either with reference to the date of completion of the Morbi inquiry or the date of release of the inquiry report, as the public at large, deeply disturbed by this unfortunate tragedy, are eagerly waiting for the inquiry findings, irrespective of the elections.
For the CEC to refer to the Morbi tragedy and the findings from the inquiry report, and link the same to the possibility of disturbing the “level playing field” among the parties, raises serious concerns about the neutrality of the Commission vis-a-vis the different political parties contesting the Gujarat elections. To the best of my understanding, it is independent of the Model Code of Conduct.
After all, in a democracy like ours, it is for the voters to exercise choice among the political parties, based on how a political party in power has performed and what lies in store with others.
Article 324 of the Constitution envisages the Election Commission of India to be an independent authority, entrusted with the responsibility of conducting elections in a free and fair manner. The Commission should not only be impartial in conducting elections but also appear to be so in terms of public perception. Public trust in the institution is of paramount importance.
As a concerned citizen, I feel that it is a fit case for Rashtrapatiji to intervene, if necessary, by seeking the considered view of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on further course of action to ensure that the Commission as an institution remains independent and not subject to extraneous factors that could affect its functioning.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Government of India