Bengal Panchayat polls: HC asks SEC to announce fresh schedule

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Kolkata, April 20 (IANS) The Calcutta High Court on Friday ordered the West Bengal State Election Commission to make a fresh announcement extending the deadline for filing of nominations for the coming panchayat polls and finalise a new election schedule.

A single judge bench of Justice Subrata Talukdar, quashing the SEC’s April 10 order that had cancelled the extension for filing nomination which the state poll panel announced on the night of April 9, directed it to issue a fresh deadline extending the time for filing nominations in consultation with the state government and important stakeholders.

In his 35-page order, the judge said the commission would then reschedule the other dates for the election process as per the rules and conduct the polls.

As the rules provide for 21 days time between the last date of nomination and the first day of polling, the original polling dates of May 1, 3 and 5 would change, as per the court order.

Justice Talukdar also lifted the stay on the election process, while directing the fine of Rs 5 lakh imposed on the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party for “forum hopping” by moving to the High Court and the Supreme Court with the same pleas, would be deposited in the SEC fund.

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Meanwhile, the BJP called the verdict a victory for the democracy-loving people and those not allowed to file nominations.

“This is a historic verdict by the High Court. It has played a courageous role in saving the democracy in West Bengal. We welcome it,” BJP petitioner Pratap Banerjee told media persons.

Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Rabin Deb expressed happiness over the entire Panchayat election process being rescheduled.

The Congress said the High Court’s verdict has proved the allegations against the ruling Trinamool Congress of pre-poll violence and attempting to influence the SEC were correct.

“It is a moral victory for us. It has dealt a mortal blow to the ruling dispensation. But the verdict does not mean that everything about the election would be held in a peaceful manner from now on. For free and fair elections central force needs to be deployed,” said state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury.

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However, the Trinamool refused to accept that the verdict had gone entirely against them.

Admitting that his argument of non-maintainability of the petitions by the opposition parties did not stand on the court, Trinamool counsel Kalyan Banerjee claimed the combined efforts of Left-Congress-BJP to stall the rural elections has failed.

“The election will decide who has worked for the people so far and who will continue to work in the future. The wave of development ushered in by (Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee is so huge that nothing would stand in its way,” he said.

The opposition BJP, CPI-M, Congress and PDS had moved the court, accusing the Trinamool of unleashing massive pre-poll violence against their party workers to prevent them from filing nominations for the polls ever since the process began on April 2.

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The parties were also aggrieved with the SEC after the poll panel on April 10 withdrew its order issued on April 9 night extending the filing of nominations by a day.

The SEC had said it withdrew the April 9 notification following a letter of legal advice by Additional Chief Secretary Saurabh Kumar Das and Trinamool Vice President Kalyan Banerjee that the notification for extension was a violation of Panchayat act’s section 46 (2).

On Friday, Justice Talukdar rejected the state government’s legal advice saying once the election dates are announced, the state has no role in the election process.

As the opposition parties knocked on the doors of the judiciary, Justice Talukdar had on April 12 stayed the Panchayat election process. The Trinamool and the SEC challenged the stay, but a high court division bench on April 16 refused to interfere into the case, and asked the single bench to hear the case on the fast track.

–IANS

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