Vijayawada: A division bench of the high court on Friday modified the single judge order suspending the state election commission’s restrictions on usage of mobile phones given by the state government to ward volunteers. To ensure there is no misuse of data related to voters in the municipal elections, the court ordered the mobile phones of volunteers to be deposited with an officer nominated by municipal commissioners of the respective urban local bodies.
The SEC had moved an appeal petition and requested the court to take up hearing on urgent basis during the lunch motion. However, as the bench was preoccupied with other matters, the request for lunch motion was not granted. The SEC then moved a house motion given the urgency of the matter.
Justice Joymalya Bagchi and Justice U Durga Prasad Rao heard the petition on Friday evening. Arguing on behalf of SEC, senior counsel B Adinarayana Rao said it had imposed a reasonable restriction on usage of mobile phones supplied by the government as the instruments contain data related to voters.
He said the decision was taken after receiving complaints during the just-concluded panchayat polls and also after the start of process for the ensuing municipal elections. Rao further argued that the SEC never intended to prevent volunteers from discharging their normal duties but only wanted to prevent misuse of voter data to ensure free and fair elections.
The HC bench asked as to how taking away the phones of volunteers would ensure they will not influence the voters. Rao said it is the duty of the police to ensure that volunteers do not indulge in such activities but preventing them access to voter data till elections are over can bring in some extent of transparency.
Conduct of free, fair and impartial elections is a constitutional obligation and at the same time the services by the volunteers should not get affected by the SEC’s restrictions, the court observed. In view of achieving both purposes, the bench suggested to hand over the phones to an officer designated by the respective municipal commissioners. However, the volunteers can use the phones whenever necessary as part of discharge of their normal duties but only under the supervision of the designated officer, the high court added.