The Supreme Court on Thursday (May 6) declined to remove critical remarks of the Madras High Court holding the poll panel responsible for the surge in COVID cases in the country.
In April, the Madras High Court had observed the Election Commission was responsible for the spread of the virus in view of its conduct of the recent Assembly polls, noting the poll panel’s officials should probably face “murder charges” for failing to ensure adherence to COVID-19 protocols.
The Election Commission then approached the Supreme Court with a special leave petition after the Madras High Court declined its plea to direct the media to refrain from reporting on oral observations made in court proceedings. The Supreme Court on May 6 rejected the plea that the media be restrained, saying it will be a “retrograde” act.
A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud, however, said the High Court remarks were “harsh”, but did not expunge them, saying they do not form part of the judicial order.
On media coverage of court proceedings, the bench said: “Open access to court is the cornerstone of constitutional freedom. Article 19(1)(a) covers freedom of press. Freedom of speech and expression covers freedom to cover court proceedings too…”
The apex court said the remarks made by the Madras High Court were “harsh” and called for restraint. “We understand that the High Court was facing rising cases of COVID-19. The remarks were harsh and the metaphor improper. The High Court did not attribute culpability to the ECI for the spread of COVID-19… A degree of caution and restraint on part of the High Court would have allayed these proceedings. Oral remarks are not part of the order and hence there is no question of expunging them,” said the Supreme Court.
On Wednesday (May 5), The Indian Express had reported that the poll panel’s plea in the Madras High Court to gag the media from reporting oral observations of judges and its Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the top court were not unanimously approved by the Commission. So sharp was the difference in opinion between the two election commissioners over the response to the censure by the Madras High Court that the dissenting EC wanted to put his views on record in a separate affidavit, paper said.
However, the EC rejected his suggestion and didn’t file his affidavit with the Madras High Court.