The Supreme Court on Monday, 03 May 2021, said that media cannot be stopped from reporting the oral observations made by the judges during the hearing of a case. The Court observed that the discussions in the court are of public interest and that the people are entitled to know how the judicial process is unfolding in the Court through the dialogue between the bar and the bench. The Court also added that the reporting of the court discussions will bring more accountability for the judges and will foster citizens’ confidence in the judicial process.
The High Court of Madras has been very critical in making strong remarks against the ECI for allowing the elections and rallies to take place which worsened the already surging COVID-19 cases in the country.
The Madras High Court on Monday, 26th April 2021 squarely blamed the Election Commission of India (ECI) for the raging second wave of COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and asked if the officials were on some other planet when political parties took out Assembly election rallies without adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols despite several judicial orders.
The ECI allowing political parties to take out rallies and meetings had led to the spread of the pandemic; the court had said. The Madras High Court had on Monday castigated the ECI over the COVID-19 second wave in the country, holding it ‘singularly’ responsible for the spread, called it “the most irresponsible institution” and even said its officials “may be booked under murder charges”. These harsh remarks tarnished the image of ECI and unnecessary sensationalized the issue.
The call by the apex court that it expects a “degree of respect and restraint” since the remarks may have serious ramifications also came on a day when the Election Commission of India (ECI) moved the Madras High Court seeking to restrain the media from reporting its strong oral observations on the poll body’s role in conducting elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The ECI’s plea was, however, rejected by the high court.
Hon’ble Supreme Court’s Hearing:
A bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud, also comprising Justice Shah, was hearing the poll panel’s plea challenging the Madras HC’s ‘murder charges‘ remark. The Madras High Court had slammed the Election Commission of India for allowing political rallies amid a deadly second wave of Covid-19. “Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of Covid-19. Election Commission officers should be booked on murder charges probably,” the HC of Madras observed.
Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi is appearing for the Election Commission. The EC had sought that media should not be allowed to report on oral observations of the court and that no criminal complaint can be filed on the basis of oral observations of the court.
Justice Chandrachud said, “We cannot say that media will not report the discussion that takes place in Court. Discussions in a court of law are of equal public interest, and I would put it on the same pedestal as the final order. Discussion in the court is a dialogue between bar and bench. The unfolding of the debate in the court of law is equally important and the media has a duty to report. It’s not only our judgments that are significant for our citizens. What is happening in the court is also of concern to the citizens…what is happening, whether there is the application of mind, how it fosters justice, these are all of the concern for the citizens. We wish that the media should report fully what is happening in Court. It brings a sense of accountability. Media reporting would also show that we are dispensing our duties fully.”
Justice Chandrachud said that the prayer made by the ECI to stop media from reporting oral observations was “far-fetched”. “Media is a very powerful watchdog in protecting the sanctity of this process. It fosters a sense of faith in the community,” he said.
“Your subsequent decisions after the remarks have improved the system. Look at what happened in counting. You take it in the right spirit… as a bitter pill”, Justice Shah told Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, who was appearing for the Election Commission.
What Is Said Is Said. Take It in The Right Spirit.
Supreme Court asked the Election Commission to take Madras HC’s observations in the right spirit. Supreme Court observed, “Judges are overburdened right now and are saying what they’re seeing around them. High Courts are burning the midnight oil.” Justice Chandrachud said, “To say that ECI is not subject to judicial review is not correct. To ask a judge to contain what he says in Court will not do justice to any judicial process.”
“Elections in our country have been a cornerstone of the existence of our democracy and we want all institutions to be free. When we write an order don’t think we are castigating ECI. We will bring balance. We have to because the issue is complex,” he said.
COVID Management Is Not Our Prerogative: EC
The poll body told Supreme Court that it has become a presumption that the election commission is responsible to curb the spread of Covid when that’s not the case. The Election Commission does not have officers to send to the rallies of the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister. “Covid management is not just our prerogative,” it told the court. The EC said, “Somewhere a line has to be drawn. Harsh criticism is welcome, but certain observations should not have been made.”
The Supreme Court has reserved the order on EC’s plea against Madras HC remark holding it responsible for Covid-19 surge, fastening its officials with murder charges.