In a major setback for the Mamata Banerjee government, Calcutta High Court, on Thursday, held that the State Election Commission (SEC) would have full supremacy and control when it came to conducting the panchayat polls.
Given the court battles that are being fought over the elections, it is now quite possible that the polls may either be scrapped, or postponed.
Modifying their May 14 order, Chief Justice Arun Mishra and justice Joymalya Bagchi also said that it was the SEC which would decide on the quantum of security forces required during the three-phase poll scheduled to begin on July 2.The state will have to agree to that and will only decide from where to arrange that force.
What the modified court order implies is that, if the state fails to arrange for the forces demanded by the SEC, the rural polls may not be held on the scheduled dates.The SEC had already hinted a week ago that, if the government failed to arrange for the security forces, the poll panel might not go in for the elections in July.
“We would request the state once again to furnish the details of the security forces they could arrange from the Union government, or from other states. We’re sticking to our earlier stand,” a senior SEC official said after the high court order.
According to estimates, the state would need around 1.18 lakh armed police personnel for the first phase of the polls. However, the state has only 48,000 police personnel in hand. This would leave a gap of about 70,000.
The state had requested for 30,000 central armed police forces from the Union home ministry. It had also approached at least seven states for help.
While the Centre has made it known that it can, at best, spare around 4,000– 5,000 personnel, the other states are yet to reply to the Mamata Banerjee administration’s requests, so putting a serious question mark on the future of the panchayat polls.
On Wednesday, SEC counsel and senior barrister Samaraditya Pal had moved a petition seeking deletion of the words “amicably settled”, “consent order”, “consensus” and “agreed to” mentioned in the May 14 order, which seriously compromised the supremacy of the SEC. Instead of ordering deletion of such words from the order, the judges agreed with Pal to modify their earlier verdict and said: “SEC will have full superintendence, direction and control over the entire election process as per Article 243K.