Calcutta, March 13: The Bengal government today indicated that it would declare the dates of the panchayat polls after arriving at a consensus with the state election commission, striking an accommodative note a day after hinting at an unilateral decision.
Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee today said at Writers’ Buildings: “According to the act (West Bengal Panchayat Election Act, 2003), we can give our opinion and the commission can do the same (on election dates and phases). This is the process. We have to find common ground on this. It would not be a problem.”
While the state has been insisting on two-phase rural polls, the election commission wants a three-phase exercise.
Yesterday, Mukherjee had signalled the government’s intent to notify two-phase polls in an attempt to persuade the commission to drop its insistence on three-leg elections.
“The state government’s decision on the election dates is final…. We will write to the state election commission about the dates and then wait for their reply. If they don’t answer, we will issue the election notification. The state election commission will be bound to follow us,” he had said.
Trinamul MP Mukul Roy, who had accused state election commissioner Mira Pande last Sunday of working on behalf of the CPM, appeared to have softened his stand.
Roy said on the sidelines of a programme in Siliguri today: “A lot of people have said that the post (of the state election commissioner) is a respected one and that I should not criticise it. But I said what I did because of a suspicion. In 2010, the Left Front government increased the tenure of the state election commissioner from three years to six years. Given its performance in the last panchayat and Lok Sabha polls, the Left Front must have realised that it would lose the Assembly elections and that is why they did it.”
Senior officials at Writers’ said the government was “desperate” to reach a consensus with the poll panel over the rural election dates to avoid possible legal trouble.
The government’s changed attitude followed advice from senior members of its legal team to settle the issue “amicably” and issue the notification after securing the consent of the commission.
A senior official told The Telegraph that Bengal advocate-general Bimal Chatterjee had advised the government to issue the rural poll notification only after the dates and phases were approved by the election commission.
The Writers’ officials said panchayat department secretary Saurav Das advised Chatterjee that dates acceptable to both sides should be worked out. Asked about this, Chatterjee said he “would not like to comment”.
The officials said that after the meeting between Das and Chatterjee on Monday, the government started “back channel” talks with the state poll panel to find a solution to the impasse. Officials involved in the “talks” said they had “largely” managed to make the commission agree to two-phase polls.
An official said the panel did “not find any justification” for the state’s plan of holding panchayat polls in Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur in one phase and the rest of the districts in another.
The officials said they were working on “rearranging the districts in the two phases in a manner that is agreeable to the poll panel”.