PIL questions Chief Secy’s jurisdiction in pressing for Bhowanipore bypoll

A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Calcutta High Court questioning the jurisdiction of the Chief Secretary to request the Election Commission to hold bypolls in the Bhowanipore Assembly constituency in Kolkata from where ‘Mamata Banerjee intends to contest’.

The petition is likely to be heard on Monday by a bench of acting Chief Justice of the HC, Rajesh Bindal.

The controversy regarding the announcement of bypolls in Bhowanipore arose after the poll panel in its notification stated that the by-election to the south Kolkata constituency is being treated as a special case because of the request from the state government.

Quoting Chief Secretary H.K. Diwedi, the EC said, “He (Chief Secretary) cited that under Article 164(4) of the Constitution, a minister who is not a member of the state legislature for a period of six consecutive months shall at the expiration of that period cease to be a minister and there will be a constitutional crisis and vacuum in the top executive posts in the government unless elections are held immediately.

“He also informed that in view of the administrative exigencies and public interest and to avoid vacuum in the state, by-elections for Bhowanipore, Kolkata, from where Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister, intends to contest, may be conducted.

“Taking into consideration the inputs and views of the Chief Secretaries and the respective Chief Electoral Officers of the states, while the Commission has decided not to hold by-elections in the other 31 Assembly constituencies and 3 Parliamentary constituencies, and considering the constitutional exigency and special request from state of West Bengal, it has decided to hold by-election in Bhowanipore Assembly constituency,” the notification added.

The petitioner, Sion Bandyopadhyaym in his PIL contested the notification and raised question over the jurisdiction of the Chief Secretary.

The petitioner asked whether the bureaucratic head of the state has the jurisdiction to request the Election Commission to conduct elections to a particular constituency just because the Chief Minister of the state ‘intends to contest’ from there.

It has also been alleged that Banerjee used Chief Secretary Dwivedi to hold by-elections to just one seat.

The PIL also raised questions on singling out a particular constituency and holding elections there.

Apart from Bhowanipore, there are other Assembly constituencies such as Gosaba, Khardah, Shantipur and Dinhata where the seats are lying vacant. So why was Bhowanipore treated as an exception and what kind of constitutional crisis will arise if elections are not conducted in this south Kolkata constituency, the petitioner questioned.

State BJP President Dilip Ghosh, who had earlier threatened to move the court on the announcement of by-polls, said, “What kind of constitutional crisis will come up if there is no election in Bhowanipore? Is the Chief Secretary is indicating that there will be constitutional crisis if Mamata Banerjee doesn’t remain the Chief Minister of the state? Being the Chief Secretary, it is not his responsibility to look into these things. The Election Commission is an autonomous body which should not come under the influence of anybody.

Meanwhile, the Leader of Opposition in West Bengal Assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, is in Delhi where he is likely to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Speculation is rife that Adhikari might discuss the Bhowanipore bypoll issues with the Home Minister.