On 10th April, amidst the corona virus scare, the Andhra Pradesh Government issued an ordinance, the Panchayat Raj (second amendment) Ordinance 2020, to unceremoniously sack Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar as the State Election Commissioner (SEC), days after he disapproved with the Government’s decision to hold Local Body Elections (LBE) due to the COVID-19 pandemic scare. It is important to remember that this ordinance was issued after the ruling party approached the Supreme Court contesting the SEC’s decision, two days prior to the lockdown, to cancel the LBEs. However, the verdict came in favor of the SEC.
The decision was criticized for many reasons and a lot many questions were raised regarding the politics and timing of it. At one level the decision was labelled unconstitutional and that it would not stand the scrutiny of the law. The Governor, by exercising his powers conferred under Article 243 K of the Constitution of India, had appointed the SEC in 2016 for a tenure of 5 years in office. The SEC’s tenure is protected by Article 243 K (2) and it cannot be altered to his disadvantage. Moreover, the argument that Article 243 K (2) protects only service and not tenure seems preposterous for the simple reason that the foregoing words in the same Article categorically state that the SEC’s removal should be synonymous to that of a High Court judge. Therefore, what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly as well.
Considering the background of the issue, a visibly infuriated Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy in an earlier press conference lashed out at the SEC’s decision to postpone the LBEs by attributing caste (Kamma) color to it and labeling him an ‘agent’ of the Opposition. There was criticism from the civil society that there is no other way to understand the ordinance but as an instrument to subvert democracy for narrow revenge-filled political gains.
Moreover, the timing of it lends credence to this line of reasoning. The Government should have explained to the people why this decision to subversively reduce the tenure of the SEC to 3 years and thereby rid itself of Mr. N. Ramesh Kumar, amid an emergency lockdown to fight against the deadly global pandemic COVID-19, was terribly necessary.
In fact, even going by the Government’s argument that this ordinance was part of ‘larger reforms’, it still begs the question as to how this ‘reform’ was going to help the people fight and save themselves and their children and their families against the horrors of COVID-19? The Government still doesn’t seem to have any answers. And as for N. Ramesh Kumar he was reinstated by the High Court but the matter remains sub-judice as the State has appealed against this decision in the Supreme Court of India.