Bengal poll panel scraps overnight order extending deadline for nominations in panchayat elections
The opposition parties — BJP, Congress and Left — claim the West Bengal State Election Commission rescinded its order under influence of the Trinamool Congress, which is accused of implementing strong-arm tactics to prevent opposition candidates from filing nomination papers.Updated: Apr 10, 2018 20:01 IST
Twelve hours after it extended the filing of nomination for the Bengal panchayat polls by a day, the State Election Commission (SEC) withdrew the order on Tuesday morning citing a letter by the ruling Trinamool Congress that alleged legal infirmities.
The order extending the nominationwindow till 3pm Tuesday was made at 9pm on Monday, and the order rescinding it was issued at 9am on Tuesday.
Panchayat elections in West Bengal are to be held in three phases from May 1 to May 5. Counting is on May 8.
The BJP responded swiftly, moving the Supreme Court against the state poll panel’s decision to recall its order. The top court will hear the matter on Wednesday.
In Delhi, advocate Aishwarya Bhati mentioned the application before Chief Justice Dipak Misra, saying an urgent hearing was required in the matter. The state BJP unit said the poll watchdog’s last minute decision is a “colourable exercise of power” at the behest of the Mamata Banerjee government.
Responding to another BJP petition in the morning, a Calcutta high court single bench of justice Subrata Talukdar issued an interim stay on the SEC’s order withdrawing the decision to extend the window for filing nomination.
The SEC said it issued the order Monday night after the Supreme Court directed the commission that if there were grievances by any political party and candidate in writing, it should ensure its disposal in accordance with the law forthwith.
But on Tuesday, commissioner AK Singh said Monday night’s order was being rescinded “..in reponse to representation by All India Trinamool Congress under the signature of Kalyan Banerjee, vice president, pointing out legal infirmities in the commission’s order”.
The Tuesday notification also said: “It appears that there was no specific direction by the Supreme Court of India for extension of the nomination date. Therefore on perusal of all the papers and considering all the points, the Commission hereby recalls the said order and therefore rescinds the (previous) order.”
Former SEC Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay said the law was unclear whether a commissioner can extend the time frame after the expiry of the original deadline
“The law clearly says the SEC has the power to decide the schedule of elections. However, nothing is clearly said in the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act 2003 whether the SEC can extend the deadline and whether it can extend time frame after the expiry of the original deadlines. So the political parties can interpret according to their convenience,” said Upadhyay, who was SEC between July 2014 and October 2015.
Opposition partiesquickly dubbed the move as one influenced by the ruling party that has been accused of violence and strong-arm tactics across the state to prevent opposition candidates from filing nomination papers.
“This is always expected from the Trinamool Congress. Former SEC Sushanta Upadhyay was similarly threatened and heckled by Trinamool leaders and minister, following which he decided to quit. We will approach the Calcutta High Court against this cancellation order,” said BJP Bengal president Dilip Ghosh.
“I have reason to believe that extreme pressure was brought on SEC AK Singh after he issued the order last night,” alleged Ghosh.
CPI(M) legislator and the leader of the Left parties in the Bengal assembly, Sujan Chakraborty, said it is evident that Singh took the decision out of fear.
“The flip flop proved there is no democracy in Bengal,” said Chakraborty.
Congress MP and state party president Adhir Chowdhury claimed that since the beginning the SEC was working under instructions from the ruling party. “On Tuesday morning, he succumbed fully,” Chowdhury said.
After Singh withdrew the order, a large police contingent was posted in front of the SEC office in south Kolkata.
Trinamool Congress’ Kalyan Banerjee told the media that Singh should have issue the order extending the nomination process before 3pm on Monday when the process ended.
He also claimed the “extension of nomination date should be made by the same order by which nominations of gram panchayat and panchayat samitis constituencies should be allowed to be received at the SDO offices”.
Incidentally, after the nomination window closed at 3pm on Monday, it was found that the ruling party won two zilla parishads of Birbhum and Bankura without a single vote being cast. In Birbhum, TMC won 41 out of 42 zilla parishad seats, while in Bankura 26 out of 46 seats were won without a contest.