iconimg Saturday, September 05, 2015

HT Correspondent
Kolkata, March 13, 2013
With the state election commission (SEC) and the Mamata Banerjee administration at loggerheads over panchayat poll dates, the imbroglio could well be resolved only in the law courts.

"As of now, it seems that the impasse is heading for the court which will resolve whose decision will preside," former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee said. "It's a perfect situation for a PIL since it concerns every citizen," he said.

The SEC wants polling to take place in three phases under the surveillance of paramilitary forces because of the law and order situation. The three dates, which the SEC has suggested, are April 28, May 2 and May 6.

But chief minister Mamata Banerjee wants polling to be held in two phases - April 24 and 27. The state had earlier demanded a single-phase election.

"This is the first time that Bengal is facing such a situation. The tussle took off from a point where the law ends. The battle will invariably end up in a court," Hasim Abdul Halim, the longest-serving speaker of a state legislative assembly in the country, said. He was the speaker of Bengal Assembly from 1982 to 2011.

Section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act states that the government must "consult" the SEC to decide the polling schedule. "Consultation should be treated as concurrence and not just exchange of letters," said a former chief electoral officer of the state.

"The law is silent on whose decision will prevail if there is a deadlock," an SEC official said.

Section 43 of the same Act makes the SEC solely responsible for conducting polls peacefully, and Section 4 of the West Bengal State Election Commission Act, 1994 gives it protection from government influence.

"It will not be surprising if the commission moves court if the state government unilaterally decides the polling schedule," Halim said.

A panchayat department official said following a discussion with the advocate general, the chief minister and the panchayat minister have been advised not to head for a collision course as the SEC could seek judicial review if the state government unilaterally decides the poll dates.