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Walkout over ‘late’ poll bill

Calcutta, July 26: Trinamul Congress and Congress legislators today walked out of the Assembly in protest against a “belated” move by the government to formulate a law to tackle panchayat poll violence.

Following reports of large-scale violence during the panchayat elections, the Left Front government today tabled the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Bill, 2003. One of its main objectives is to enact stringent laws to make violence, booth-capturing and other malpractices during panchayat polls cognisable offence. It also seeks to make the state election commission solely responsible for conducting the elections.

“We appreciate the intentions of the bill. But it is too late to enact such a law after the recent panchayat polls which witnessed unprecedented violence created by the CPM, killing 33 innocent persons,” said Saugata Roy of Trinamul.

Soon after panchayat minister Surjya Kanta Mishra moved the bill, Opposition members led by the Congress’ Atish Sinha protested against the placing of the bill. They demanded that since the next panchayat elections will be due in 2008, there was no need to pass the bill in haste. It should be sent to the select committee of the Assembly for detailed discussions.

The debate continued for nearly an hour and a half and shortly before the House passed the bill, Trinamul members trooped out. The Congress legislators followed shortly.

In one of the provisions of the bill, the government aims to introduce a system that will allow extension of the last date for filing nominations if there are complaints of harassment by opponents.

“Nearly 23,000 Trinamul and BJP candidates could not file nominations in the panchayat polls due to the terror tactics of the CPM. We cannot extend our support to the bill when the panchayat polls are already over,” Roy said.

Mishra replied that the provision was included mainly in view of the complaints lodged by the Opposition candidates that they were prevented from filing nominations this time.

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