Tripura: SC refuses to delay municipal polls, asks for report on unrest

The top court was hearing a petition by the Trinamool Congress alleging contempt against the Tripura administration and police for failing to ensure a safe environment for campaigning to take place ahead of the municipal polls for 334 seats in urban local bodies
BJP candidate Dipak Majumdar during the last day of Tripura Municipal Corporation Election campaign rally in Agartala on Tuesday. (PTI)
BJP candidate Dipak Majumdar during the last day of Tripura Municipal Corporation Election campaign rally in Agartala on Tuesday. (PTI)
Updated on Nov 24, 2021 01:21 AM IST
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ByAbraham Thomas and Priyanka Deb Barman, Hindustan Times, New Delhi/agartala

Municipal elections will not be postponed in Tripura but police will have to submit within two days an action-taken report on incidents of violence in the state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.

“Postponing elections is a matter of last and extreme resort,” a bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Vikram Nath said. “While we are not inclined to accede to the prayer for postponing polls, we are equally of the view that it is the duty of the director general of police (DGP), the inspector general of police (IGP – law and order) and the home secretary of the state of Tripura to assuage any misgivings about the fairness of the law enforcement machinery in supporting the electoral process.”

The top court was hearing a petition by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) alleging contempt against the Tripura administration and police for failing to ensure a safe environment for campaigning to take place ahead of the municipal polls for 334 seats in urban local bodies. This includes 13 municipal councils, six nagar panchayats, and 51 wards of Agartala municipal corporation.

The last date for campaigning ended on Tuesday. Voting is to take place on Thursday, followed by counting of votes on Monday.

Hours after the apex court judgment, the Tripura police said that measures were taken to ensure free and peaceful civic polls on November 25 in over 200 seats. The ruling BJP has already won uncontested 112 out of the total 334 seats earlier.

A total of 644 polling stations have been set up of which 370 have been identified as ‘ A’ category and rest 274 as ‘B’ category. Four Tripura State Rifles and armed police personnel each would be deployed in ‘A’ and ‘B’ category polling stations. Additionally, two sections of Central Reserve Police Force ( CRPF) were deployed at strong room and government press. All returning officers and observers were provided personal security officers.

“After the directions of Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, additional 15 sections of CRPF are also being provided for the Agartala municipal elections and outside,” said a statement from the assistant inspector general of police.

Police said it registered 57 cases, launched a special drive to execute total 161 pending warrants and made 433 preventive arrests after announcement of the civic polls. “DGP Tripura calls upon all the eligible voters to exercise their franchise fearlessly and freely. Tripura police has made elaborate arrangements to ensure free and fair elections,” said the statement quoted above.

Earlier in the day, the TMC, represented by lawyers Jaideep Gupta and Gopal Sankaranarayanan, painted a grim picture of the situation in the state, saying that violence against their candidates and party functionaries continued unabated even as police remained a mute spectator. The party earlier secured an order on November 11, when the top court directed police and state authorities to secure a free and unhindered environment for the petitioner to exercise their political rights.

“It is a complete terror state,” Sankaranarayanan said, pointing out how the court’s order was flouted as he listed out 17 complaints where no arrests were made. Gupta informed the judges that several opposition candidates have withdrawn their candidatures fearing a threat to life. He referred to a news report to show that the BJP is set to win 112 seats even prior to the elections, as their candidates are unopposed. Both lawyers requested the court to postpone the polls by a week to restore confidence of political parties and the electorate.

Concerned over these allegations, the bench called for a report on the deployment of security forces in the state. In addition to the three battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), two more CRPF battalions are being drafted at Agartala, said advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for the state.

These were in addition to the Tripura Rifles and local police, he said. On the allegation of inaction on first information reports (FIRs), Jethmalani accused the petitioners of making a mountain out of a molehill as the allegations pertained to scuffles and minor offences for which arrests were not necessary.

The bench issued a slew of directions, asking the DGP and IGP to hold an emergency meeting with the state election commission on the eve of the polls and assess requirement of further deployment of central paramilitary troops in critical areas. In view of the additional requirement, the court said that upon such a request being made to the Union home ministry, the same shall be duly considered.

With a direction already issued by the apex court on November 11 asking police to submit an action-taken report detailing steps taken to ensure free and fair polls, the bench supplemented it with an order asking the state to provide a chart showing each complaint received, registration of FIR, action taken pursuant to it, and arrests made.

Requiring the information by the next date of hearing on Thursday, the bench said, “The law enforcement agencies must discharge their duties in an evenhanded and non-partisan manner to obviate the grievance which has been urged before this court that candidates and supporters of the AITC (All India Trinamool Congress) are being unfairly targeted by contesting political groups.”

The affidavit to be filed by the state will have to contain detailed steps taken on multiple fronts – preserve law and order, ensure security for political workers, voters and contesting candidates, protect the electoral process leading up to the counting of votes and the declaration of the results, and to deal with criminal offenders.

The direction came with a subtle warning by the judges. “The DGP and state home secretary shall observe these directions scrupulously so as to obviate the need for the court to adopt coercive steps in the event that a breach of its directions comes to light,” the judges said.

The BJP criticised the TMC over the issue.

“The Supreme Court rejected the petitions filed by the All India Trinamool Congress to postpone the civic polls. The verdict of the apex court is victory of democracy and Tripura people. We have been observing the conspiracy that was hatched to mar the polls that came to light now,” said state law minister Ratan Lal Nath.

Another BJP leader, Sudip Roy Barman, appeared to criticise the party’s leadership. “The childish leadership of the parachuted leader failed to identify the main political opponents. I don’t have any personal quarrel but some activities going on here are marring the name of party and the party leadership, “ he said.

TMC leader Kunal Ghosh said, “We welcome Sudip Roy Barman that he unveiled the mask of the BJP hooligans. The TMC has gained mass acceptance in the state and that’s why, the BJP is taking attempts to obstruct the polling. Instead of attacking the oppositions and harassing common people, the ruling BJP should show us if they can drop him from the party.”

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Friday, January 28, 2022