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Wednesday 29 January 2020

High Court wants free and fair panchayat polls in Bengal but is mum on central forces

The High Court has urged the commission to make sure that the nomination process is smooth and peaceful; however, it did not pass any order on Chowdhury’s plea for deployment of central forces during the panchayat polls

Kolkata: Responding to the plea of INC’s Bengal chief and MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the Calcutta High Court has asked the West Bengal Election Commission to file an affidavit with a detailed report on the status of filing of nominations by 16 April. It has asked the petitioner to give his reply by 19 April.

The next date for hearing Chowdhury’s case is 20 April.

The State has witnessed an acrimonious debate between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition comprising the BJP, CPM and INC and instances of violence between their workers since the time the process of filing the candidates’ nomination papers began. The opposition alleges that the ruling party workers have been stopping their candidates on the way to the respective designated offices where the nomination papers are to be submitted. In this regard, Adhir Chowdhury had petitioned the High Court on Thursday, seeking the protection of candidates.

On Friday, the first hearing of the case (item 543) began at 10:40 AM to a courtroom packed with followers of Chowdhury and INC workers. Some were curious to know whether the leader would stay on in the party after serious differences cropped up between the high command and him over sending Abhishek Manu Singhvi to Rajya Sabha with the support of TMC’s votes.

Sirf News had reported on Thursday that Chowdhury ha started sending feelers to the BJP.

Chowdhury submitted before the court: “… elections to panchayats under the present regime have become a farce,” and added, “My Lord, the election notification has been made on April 2 stating that the last date of nomination is April 9. The opposition didn’t get even seven clear days for filing nominations. Candidates can’t go to the block offices individually and file nominations because the office is mobbed by miscreants owing allegiance to the ruling party. I mention that 50% of the panchayat seats are reserved for women. Is it possible for women to reach the block office in such a situation? Police have become a puppet if the ruling party and the state election commission has become a toothless tiger.”

The bench intervened, asking Chowdhury to refrain from using words such as “puppet” and “toothless tiger” and concentrate on the legal points instead.

Chowdhury continued, “This is an admitted fact that there is a huge shortfall of state police and also state officials for the conduct of polls. In the last 2013 panchayat polls, the polls were conducted in presence of 25,000 central forces.”

State election commission secretary Nilanjan Shandilya told the court that the commission had directed the administration to make the necessary security arrangements.

The High Court then sought a report from the SEC detailing the measures taken by the latter to ensure the security of the panchayat election candidates. It has urged the commission to make sure that the nomination process is smooth and peaceful.

The High Court instructed the SEC to report the matter to the police in every case where a candidate is not allowed to file his or her nomination papers.

The division bench of acting Chief Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya and Justice Arijit Banerjee, however, did not pass any order on Chowdhury’s plea for deployment of central forces during the panchayat polls — either now or during the polls.


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