Calcutta HC suspends Bengal panchayat poll processes till April 16
Calcutta high court on Thursday directed all processes of the West Bengal rural polls to be suspended till April 16, when the state election commission (SEC)?will submit a report on the steps it has taken to ensure peaceful filing of nomination by the Opposition.
The court will decide on the next step only after going through the report.
Justice Subrata Talukdar delivered the order after hearing a petition by the Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Trinamool Congress (TMC)?decided to approach a division bench of Calcutta high court against Thursday’s order. The BJP filed a caveat so that there is no hearing at a division bench without informing its counsel.
Trinamool counsel and party MP, Kalyan Banerjee, argued both inside the court and outside that according to Article 243-O of the Constitution, courts do not have right to interfere in electoral matters after the election process started.
“There is no precedence of courts interfering in such situations. While we think the poll process kicks off with the notification by the election commission, the court thought otherwise,” said Banerjee outside the court.
Justice Talukdar also observed that, if necessary, the date of polling can change.
Since the nomination process began on April 2, opposition parties have been alleging that the ruling party supporters have indulged in violence and strong-arm tactics to prevent their candidates from filing nominations, an allegation dismissed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
The polling is scheduled to take place on May 1, 3 and 5. Counting is on May 8. Six people have died in violence surrounding the rural elections over the past month.
Countering Kalyan Banerjee, advocates for the petitioner maintained that under Section 43 of the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act, 2003, the SEC has the powers to “extend the date for completion of any election”.
Opposition leaders welcomed the court’s decision.
“The Supreme Court directed Calcutta high court to redress the grievances of the common man centring the rural elections. I salute courts. At least they are listening to our agony when the government, the police and even the SEC are turning a deaf ear to our pleas,” said state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury.
“The court order justifies our grievances for which we called a six-hour bandh in Bengal on Friday,” said Left Front chairman Biman Bose.
Ruling party leaders refrained from criticising the order but said they will have the last laugh.
“The delight of the Opposition will be cut short by the people who will defeat them in the elections that will be held tomorrow or day after,” said Trinamool secretary general, Partha Chatterjee.
The polls are crucial because the TMSC, which wants a larger role in national politics, wants to retain its hold over the state’s grassroots-level politics, while the BJP, fast emerging as Bengal’s main Opposition party, is keen to expand its footprint.
On Thursday, the judge asked the SEC secretary, Nilanjan Sandilya, how many candidates wanted to file their nominations on April 9 and 10, but couldn’t. The official told the judge that he did not have the information ready at hand.
On the night of April 9, the SEC issued a notification extending the filing of nomination by a day (till 3 pm on April 10). But barely within 12 hours, state election commissioner, A K Singh, issued another notification withdrawing the extension order and cited two letters — one by the state government and the other by Trinamool Congress vice-president Kalyan Banerjee — had pointed out legal infirmities in the earlier notification.
The BJP moved the apex court that ordered the matters should be heard by Calcutta high court on April 12.
The court also imposed a penalty of R5 lakh on petitioner Pratap Banerjee, general secretary of the Bengal unit of the BJP for not informing the court that he also approached the Supreme Court on Tuesday with the same complaint.
The CPI(M) had also moved the Supreme Court on Wednesday with an appeal to postpone the panchayat elections till the question of the filing of nominations by opposition candidates was settled.