Calcutta HC refuses to interfere with Bhabanipur bypoll schedule
The Calcutta high court on Tuesday refused to interfere with the date of the Bhabanipur assembly bypoll that Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee is contesting to retain the post of chief minister even as the court pulled up West Bengal chief secretary HK Dwivedi, saying he behaved like a political party spokesperson and not as a public servant by citing a constitutional crisis to have it expedited.
“We do not find it appropriate to interfere with the decision of the (election) commission to hold the by-election to the Bhabanipur assembly constituency at this stage. However, we record our strong reservation about the conduct of the chief secretary in writing a letter to the ECI (Election Commission of India) stating that there would be a ‘constitutional crisis’ in case by-election to Bhabanipur constituency is not held. He is a public servant, who is to discharge his duties in terms of provisions of law, whosoever may be in power. He is not to ensure that any particular person should come to power and in the absence, there would be a constitutional crisis,” a division bench of acting chief justice Rajesh Bindal and justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj observed on Tuesday.
The ECI cited Dwivedi’s letter that there would be a constitutional crisis if the bypoll is not held when the election watchdog on September 4 announced the by-election schedule for Bhabanipur and three other assembly seats in West Bengal and Odisha.
The schedule was announced even as the ECI further deferred bypolls to three Lok Sabha and 30 assembly constituencies in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. The schedule for the bypolls to these 33 seats was announced shortly before the high court verdict on Tuesday.
Advocate Sayan Banerjee on September 8 filed a public interest litigation, soon after the ECI published the gazette notification for the by-election, seeking to quash the ECI memo. The court heard it first on September 11.
“We did not want a stay on the elections in the PIL. We just challenged the chief secretary’s statements. The chief secretary has not done his duty and the court has held it,” said advocate Sabyasachi Chatterjee, who represented the petitioner.
TMC leader and minister Firhad Hakim refused to comment on the court’s observations.
BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said: “We are not against elections. We never wanted the polls to get stalled.”