Bengal panchayat polls to be held in single phase on July 8: State election body
Panchayat elections in West Bengal will be held in a single phase on July 8 and nominations for the elections will begin immediately.
Panchayat elections in West Bengal will be held in a single phase on July 8 and nominations for the elections will begin immediately, state election commissioner (SEC) Rajiva Sinha announced on Thursday, sparking a controversy with opposition parties demanding more time to file papers and the presence of central forces to stave off violence.
The results will be announced tentatively on July 11, Sinha said. Twenty districts in the state have three-tier panchayats and the hill districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong have two-tier bodies.
“Filing of nomination will commence on Friday and continue till June 15. It has to be done between 11 am and 3 pm except on Sundays and holidays. Scrutiny of nominations will be done on June 17 and last day for withdrawal is June 20. No campaigning will be allowed between 10 pm and 8 am. The code of conduct starts as we speak at this press conference,” said Sinha
Sinha is the state’s former chief secretary whose appointment as SEC was cleared by governor C V Ananda Bose on Wednesday. Sinha retired from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 2020.
This is the first major electoral challenge for the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress, which secured a resounding assembly election victory two years ago but has since grappled with allegations of corruption in government recruitment.
The last panchayat polls in 2018 witnessed large-scale violence and around 20 murders with opposition parties alleging that their candidates were not allowed to file nominations and intimidated. The TMC bagged around 90% seats, of which 34% were uncontested.
In the three-tier panchayat system, the most fiercely contested were the 58,513 gram panchayats. In the second tier, there are 9730 panchayat samitis while 22 zila parishads form the top tier.
There are around 56.7 million voters in the panchayat areas, according to the data released by the SEC on Thursday.
The Opposition, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been demanding the deployment of central paramilitary forces for the rural polls. The tenure of the panchayat boards ended around six months ago.
“Since the polls were pending, SEC officials started preparations 2-3 months ago. We will inform the state if we need additional force. Law and order are responsibilities of the state government. All state officials will work under the election commission,” Sinha said.
Asked whether candidates will be allowed to file nominations online or through social media apps as was done in some cases in 2021, Sinha said: “No decision has been taken on the filing of nominations online. We will discuss this with the state government. Special circumstances forced the Election Commission of India (ECI) to take special steps in the last polls.”
The SEC clarified that it will not be possible to install security cameras in every polling booth.
BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar called the SEC an appointee of the TMC.
“We are ready to face the polls but the manner in which the dates have been announced clearly shows that SEC is working under instructions from his employer. We will move the Calcutta high court seeking more time for filing nomination,” Majumdar said.
State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and CPI(M) state secretary Md Salim raised the same point. “How can the parties finalise a few thousand candidates at such short notice?” Chowdhury asked.
TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh countered the Opposition, saying that the parties were making excuses to hide their weakness. “All parties knew that the poll schedule would be announced any moment. They could have selected their candidates long ago. These parties don’t even have candidates to field against the TMC,” said Ghosh.
The Opposition also alleged that no all-party meeting was called by the SEC before the polls were announced.
“There is no rule which says calling an all-party meeting is mandatory,” Sinha said.