Paving the way for Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to enter the state legislature as a member, the Election Commission on Friday (May 1) announced holding polls to nine seats of the state Legislative Council on May 21.
The polls were deferred on April 3 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Thackeray, who was sworn in on November 28 last year, has time till May 27 to get elected to the state legislature, failing which he will have to step down.
Maharashtra Governor B S Koshyari had requested the Election Commission on Thursday (April 30) to declare polls for nine vacant seats to the state Legislative Council.
These seats fell vacant on April 24.
Earlier, the state cabinet had also recommended appointing the Shiv Sena chief as a member of the Legislative Council as a Governor’s nominee, but there had been no progress on the proposal.
The decision to hold the polls on May 21 was taken by the “full Commission” with Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra in Delhi being joined by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora over video from the US.
While a notification will be issued on May 4, nominations can be filed till May 11. The counting of votes will be held on May 21 evening, an hour after the conclusion of polls at 4 pm as per usual practice adopted for Rajya Sabha and legislative council polls.
In a statement, the poll panel said in cases of former prime ministers P V Narasimha Rao in 1991 and HD Deve Gowda in 1996; and several chief ministers including Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan in 1991), Rabri Devi (Bihar in 1997), Vijay Bhaskar Reddy (Andhra Pradesh in 1993), it had conducted by-elections to fulfil similar constitutional requirement.
“The Commission noted that this has been the consistent practice in the past,” the statement said. The poll panel also decided that the Union Home Secretary, who is chairperson of National Executive Committee in ex-officio capacity under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, should depute an officer of suitable seniority to ensure that the preventive measures are put in place in keeping with the provisions of the Act for the smooth conduct of the electoral process.
The statement said the EC had received a letter on Thursday from the state chief secretary in which the official pointed out the various measures taken to control pandemic and that in the state governments assessment, elections to the nine seats of MLCs by MLAs could be held in a safe environment.
The state government assured the Commission that it is fully committed to ensuring that the elections are held in total hygienic conditions with social distancing measures and other conditions imposed by the competent authorities.
Citing Union Home Ministry’s order on permitting the movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded due to the lockdown, the state government said it will facilitate and ensure that the elections are conducted by following all directions.
Referring to the governor’s letter, the poll panel said he mentioned that Thackeray was sworn in as the chief minister on November 28, 2019 and pointed out that according to constitutional provisions he has to become a member of either the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council within a period of six months — on or before May 27, 2020.
The governor said the ground situation is contained and as of now appears to be improving with several relaxations being made by the government. The Commission also took note of representations from various political parties requesting it to hold the election.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission will take a call next week on the various Rajya Sabha and legislative council polls deferred due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. “The Commission also decided to review other deferred elections in the next week,” an EC statement said.
In March, the commission had deferred the March 26 Rajya Sabha elections citing threat of COVID-19 and had said a decision will be taken after reviewing the situation.
While 17 members from six states retired on April 9, one from Meghalaya retired on April 12. The 18 seats are spread across Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Meghalaya.
The election to fill up 55 seats in the Upper House of Parliament was to be held on March 26, but 37 candidates have already been elected without a contest.
(With inputs from agencies)