The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday recommended a five-phase panchayat polls for West Bengal. It also asked the government and the State Election Commission (SEC) to work out within 24 hours the availability and requirement of security personnel for each phase.
The state government had sought a four-phase election, currently scheduled in three phases between July 2 and 9. The SEC prescribed five phases in view of ‘acute shortage’ of security personnel and the Centre’s inability to spare forces engaged in rescue operations in Uttarakhand and maintenance of law and order elsewhere.
Hearing the SEC’s plea, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Joymalyo Bagchi proposed a five-phase election on July 2, 4, 6, 8 and 9. “Elections can’t be cancelled... It seems splitting the phases is the only way out so that the polls could be held with whatever forces are available,” the Chief Justice said.
The SEC’s counsel said it would not be possible to hold the polls without adequate security even if they were re-phased. The court subsequently told the state government and SEC to calculate the availability and requirement of security forces phase-wise. Both were asked to provide the estimates on Wednesday.
Earlier, the Centre’s advocate told the court that central armed forces, preoccupied with Uttarakhand and other exigencies, were not provided for local polls. He clarified Andhra Pradesh was provided central forces to seal border with other states and not for direct poll duty. The court observed West Bengal has a shortfall of 77,000 security personnel.