The Election Commission of India (ECI) came in for a stinging and cutting condemnation from the Madras High Court on Monday as the MHC threw a volley of questions and charges at the poll panel for allowing political rallies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee, who appeared visibly upset, told the Election Commission’s counsel, “Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of  COVID-19.”

“Your officers should be booked on murder charges probably,” adding verbally.

The Chief Justice observed that the Commission had failed to enforce COVID norms regarding wearing of facemasks, use of sanitizers and maintaining social distancing during election campaigning despite court orders.

“Were you on another planet when the election rallies were held?”, Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee asked the ECI counsel.

The election body had failed to enforce Covid safety rules like masks, sanitisers and distancing during campaigning despite court orders, said the High Court.

The Court warned that it will stop the counting scheduled on May 2 if the ECI does not put in place a blueprint of a plan to ensure the following of COVID19 protocol on the counting day.

“Public health is of paramount importance and it is distressing that constitutional authorities have to be reminded in such regard. It is only when a citizen survives that he’ll be able to enjoy the rights that a democratic republic guarantees,” the Chief Justice added.

“The situation now is of survival and protection. Everything else comes next,” the Chief Justice said.

The bench, also comprising Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, directed the Election Commission of India and the Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer to hold consultations with the Health Secretary and come up with a plan on following COVID-19 protocol on the counting day.

The Election Commission will react after it sees the order, sources say.

The bench directed that the blueprint must be placed on record before it on April 30.

“The matter will appear on April 30 to review the situation when a complete picture as to adequate steps having been taken will be clear”, the bench said in the order.

(With agency inputs)