BJP’s demand for same-day civic polls in Bengal not granted by Calcutta HC

Updated on Dec 15, 2021 03:51 PM IST

The bench also did not order a stay on the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls, scheduled on December 19, as sought by the petitioner, the BJP’s state vice-president Pratap Banerjee

The hearing on the petition ended on December 10, but the Calcutta high court bench had reserved its order. (HT/ File photo)
The hearing on the petition ended on December 10, but the Calcutta high court bench had reserved its order. (HT/ File photo)

The Calcutta high court’s division bench of chief justice Prakash Shrivastava and justice Rajarshi Bhardwaj on Wednesday did not entertain the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) petition seeking simultaneous elections to West Bengal’s 120-odd municipal corporations and municipalities.

The bench also did not order a stay on the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls, scheduled on December 19, as sought by the petitioner, the BJP’s state vice-president Pratap Banerjee.

The hearing on the petition ended on December 10 but the bench had reserved its order. During the hearing on December 6, the West Bengal state election commission (SEC) said it wanted to hold the elections in the remaining 22 districts in six to eight phases by May next year.

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The bench on Wednesday did not give the SEC a free hand in deciding the poll schedule and directed it to disclose in the next hearing, the tentative time schedule and the minimum phases required for holding elections in the remaining civic bodies.

The matter will be heard again on December 23.

“Keeping in view the observations made above, respondent No. 2 and No. 3 (West Bengal government and the SEC, respectively) are directed to disclose to this court, without any further delay, minimum phases in which elections for the remaining municipal corporations/municipalities in the state will be held, and the tentative time schedule giving earliest dates for holding such elections. We expect that respondent No. 2 and No. 3 will take a decision in this regard keeping in mind their responsibility to uphold democratic principles and to carry out the mandate of the Constitution,” said the court order.

On the BJP’s petition for a stay on the KMC polls, the court said a similar petition was rejected on December 1.

“We are of the opinion that the prayer made by the counsel for the petitioner for staying the KMC elections cannot be accepted and is hereby declined,” said the judges.

During the last hearing on December 10, advocates for the petitioner cited some judgments of the Supreme Court and said that electronic voting machines (EVM) containing voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) are mandatory, but these will not be used in the KMC elections, according to the affidavit earlier filed by the SEC.

Senior advocate Jayanta Mitra, who represented the SEC, countered it. He said EVMs given to the state by the Election Commission of India (ECI) for the municipal polls do not have the provision for VVPAT.

On Wednesday, the order said, “The Honourable Supreme Court had clearly observed that the existing system is not doubted by the court so far as fairness and integrity is concerned, but had observed about increasing the machines, which are subjected to verification of paper trail to a reasonable number. These judgments are not relating to the local bodies’ elections, and in none of these judgments, it has been held that the elections shouldn’t be held if VVPATs are not used.”

Expressing faith in the current system, the order said, “If the number of machines that are subjected to verification of paper trail can be increased to a reasonable number, it would lead to greater satisfaction among not only the political parties, but the entire electorate of the country. This is what the court should endeavour, and the exercise, therefore, should be to find a viable number of machines that should be subjected to the verification of VVPAT paper trails keeping in mind the infrastructure and the manpower difficulties pointed out by the deputy election commissioner. In this regard, the proximity to the election schedule announced by the ECI must be kept in mind.”

Though the court rejected all the demands made by the BJP, the party’s national vice-president, Dilip Ghosh, said the legal exercise was necessary.

“People of Bengal have to move the court for everything because they have no other option. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) never allows free and fair elections,” Ghosh alleged.

Transport minister Firhad Hakim welcomed the court’s order, saying, “The BJP moved the court because it knows that it will not win a single seat in Kolkata.”

With the polls barely four days away, the TMC intensified its activities. The party announced that chief minister Mamata Banerjee will campaign for the candidates in eastern Kolkata on Wednesday evening.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2022
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