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Govt sounds poll panel on options

Barrister Samaraditya Pal outside advocate-general Bimal Chatterjee’s home on Friday. Picture by Sanjay Chattopadhyaya

Calcutta, April 5: The lawyers of the Bengal government and the state election commission held talks here this evening but both sides more or less stuck to their positions on central forces for panchayat polls.

Late tonight, a government source said the state was willing to explore the possibility of holding three-phase polls as originally suggested by the commission if the use of central forces could be avoided. The state has so far been insisting on two-phase polls without central forces.

But commission sources said no change from what the panel had submitted before Calcutta High Court could be entertained without keeping the judiciary in the picture.

Sources said the commission had conveyed to the government that it should at least seek central forces and wait for Delhi’s response. Till late tonight, it was not clear how the commission would respond if Delhi turned down the state government’s plea.

Barrister Samaraditya Pal, representing the commission, visited advocate-general Bimal Chatterjee’s home at 7.30pm for an 80-minute meeting at the latter’s invitation. Yesterday, the judge had asked the two parties to try and come to a settlement over the weekend before appearing in court again on Tuesday.

Sources said that after closer scrutiny of legal documents, the government was now keen on reviving the negotiation process. On its part, the commission wanted to honour Justice Biswanath Somadder’s advice and accepted Chatterjee’s invitation for talks.

Yesterday, Chatterjee had said in the court that the state government had forwarded a fresh set of dates — May 5 and 8 instead of April 26 and 30 — for holding the rural polls. It was after this that Justice Somadder asked the two parties to try and sort out the issue between themselves.

Although both lawyers declined to comment on the discussions, sources said that there was “no change” in the situation.

The Telegraph has learnt from sources privy to the details of the meeting that barrister Pal told the advocate-general why the government must agree, “at least in principle”, to ask the Centre for forces if a resolution was to be found outside the court.

Pal stressed that in the petition filed in court, the commission had dwelt largely on the need for central forces and had also tried to underline this point in the two hearings held so far.

“Pal explained that if the commission now said there was no need for central forces, it would be left with no answer if the court asked why it had delayed the polls by filing such a petition,” a source said.

The commission’s petition more or less hinges on the security factor. Point 49 of the petition says that in the absence of central forces, the death toll in violence during the panchayat polls of 2003 was 58 while that in 2008 was 23. But no violence-related death was reported in the 2009 Lok Sabha and 2011 Assembly polls that were held in the presence of central forces, the petition added.

Only if the government tells the court that it is ready to ask for central forces will the commission agree to settle the issue through negotiations, a source quoted Pal as having conveyed to the advocate- general.

Advocate-general Chatterjee, according to the sources, said he would convey the message to the government.

Sources in the panchayat department said the government might be willing to accept the idea of holding the elections in more than two phases, something the commission had initially asked for but the chief minister was averse to.

A source said Pal informed Chatterjee that it was “too late” for this. “Pal informed Chatterjee that because of the commission’s stand in court, it was very difficult for it to agree even on more phases without the assurance of central forces,” the source said.


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