Calcutta HC reserves order on BJP’s plea for single-phase civic polls in Bengal
The Calcutta high court division bench of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bhardwaj on Friday reserved judgment on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) petition seeking elections in West Bengal’s 120-odd municipal corporations and municipalities on a single day.
The bench will pass its order on Monday. The petition has been filed by BJP state vice-president Pratap Banerjee.
During the last hearing on December 6, the West Bengal state election commission (SEC) told the bench that it wants to hold the elections in six to eight phases by May next year.
During a long hearing on Friday, Advocate General S N Mookherjee, who represented the state government, said the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls will be held on December 19 because of the better vaccination status of Kolkata residents and healthcare facilities available in the city. He cited logistical problems and the Covid-19 pandemic as reasons for postponing the polls in the remaining 22 districts.
Advocate Pinky Anand, who represented the petitioner, countered the SEC’s argument that elections in the districts are being postponed because of the new threat posed by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. She argued that people of Kolkata, who will cast their votes in less than 10 days, are not immune to it.
Stating that polls in all civic bodies of Bengal were held simultaneously in 2015, Anand told the bench that electronic voting machines (EVM) containing voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) are mandatory but these will not be used in the KMC election according to the affidavit earlier filed by the SEC.
Senior advocate Jayanta Mitra, who represented the SEC, countered Anand. He said the situation in 2015 was quite different. He told the bench that the SEC informed the Election Commission of India (ECI) about shortage of EVMs in the state but the ECI told the SEC that it had already loaned all EVMs in its stock to Bengal. Mitra also told the court that EVMs given to the state for the municipal polls do not have the provision for VVPAT. Mitra informed the bench that EVMs with VVPAT are used only in assembly and Lok Sabha polls. States such as Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra do not use EVMs with VVPAT in municipal polls, Mitra said.
The court wanted to know when the SEC will submit its plans for polls in the rest of the civic bodies. Mitra told the court that the schedule will be decided after the KMC elections on December 19.