After days of stalemate, the State Election Commission (SEC) petitioned Calcutta High Court on Monday, seeking cancellation of the government notification that announced a two-phase poll on April 26 and 30.
“We’ve raised three points in the petition that runs up to nearly 150 pages — deploy paramilitary forces during the polls, declare Section 42 ‘unconstitutional’ and that the state did not consult the SEC in the real sense of the term before announcing the dates,” LC Bihani, SEC counsel, said. He told HT that justice Somadder would hear the matter on Tuesday.
Amrita Pandey, through whom the petition was filed, told HT in the evening that the SEC had prayed only for quashing of Section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act, 2003. The Act was framed during the first term of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government.
“Section 42 states that the state should, in consultation with the SEC, announce the poll dates through a notification. But, in this case, the government didn’t consult us and announced the dates unilaterally,” a senior SEC official said. While the government wanted to hold the polls in two-phases, the SEC wants a three-phase poll with the paramilitary forces taking care of security.
Justice Somadder, however, directed counsel to get the matter listed before the court could take it up.
Soon after the SEC moved court, chief minister Mamata Banerjee went into a huddle with panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee, law minister Chandrima Bhattacharya and the advocate-general to discuss their strategy to counter the SEC in court.
“The matter is subjudice now. The SEC did what they thought was right. The state government will move according to law,” Mukherjee said. He also said seven panchayat polls in Bengal had been held according to this Act. This was supposed to be the eighth election. “Anyone having common sense will understand what went wrong,” he added.
This is the first time in 13 years since the state election commission started conducting panchayat elections, that an impasse between the government and the commission has ended up in the court. “We approached the governor for his intervention so that the elections could be held on time. The government and the SEC should have resolved it amicably,” Left Front chairman Biman Bose said.
The first panchayat elections were held in Bengal in 1978, but the SEC was formed in June 1994. It conducted the first elections in 1998.
Last week, former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee and former speaker of Bengal legislative assembly Hashim Abdul Halim (who was a speaker for a record 29 years) told HT that there was a high chance of courts upholding SEC’s position.