Calcutta High Court
Calcutta, July 26: Calcutta High Court today upheld the state election commission’s decision to hold polls to 12 municipalities on September 21, rejecting the state government’s plea for voting on September 9.
The division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi said: “The Constitution has clearly said that the commission’s decision on fixing of poll dates in panchayat as well as municipal elections is final.”
The verdict is being seen as another poll panel victory in court over the state government. Both sides had been locked in a battle in the high court and the Supreme Court over the panchayat elections.
In the case of the panchayat elections, which ended yesterday, the Supreme Court had asked the commission to suggest the poll dates and had accepted the proposal with minor alterations. The apex court had rejected the state government’s objections to the dates.
Advocate Basabi Roy Chowdhury moved a PIL seeking the high court’s intervention in resolving the dispute between the state government and the poll panel over fixing of election dates for the 12 municipal bodies.
During two hearings on July 19 and 23, the division bench had directed the state government to consult the commission and fix the poll date. But a resolution could not be reached through discussions.
“The polls should be held on September 21 as per the wish of the commission,” the bench said today.
Commission officials said it was “unfathomable” why the government refused to cooperate with the panel and “tried to undermine” its primacy in election-related matters.
Besides upholding the right of the commission to fix the dates of panchayat and municipal polls, the high court also said the elections to the 12 municipalities, whose five-year terms expired on June 29, should have been over by now.
“Article 243 (U) of the Constitution states that municipal body elections should be held before the expiry of its five-year term,” the bench said.
The 12 municipalities are in Mekliganj and Haldibari (Cooch Behar), Alipurduar (Jalpaiguri), Balurghat (South Dinajpur), Dalkhola (North Dinajpur), Chakdah (Nadia), Panihati and Habra (North 24-Parganas), Diamond Harbour (South 24-Parganas), Burdwan town, Guskara (Burdwan) and Dubrajpur (Birbhum).
According to the Municipal Election Manual, 1998, the five-year term starts from the day of the first meeting of the civic board.
When the matter came up for hearing today, advocate-general Bimal Chatterjee gave a piece of paper to Chief Justice Mishra containing the state’s arguments on why the government did not want to hold the polls after September 15.
“The state claimed that after Viswakarma puja on September 17, the festive session would begin. It would be difficult to make adequate police arrangements then,” a source said.
The government also cited a rule of convening the first board meeting within seven days of the formation of the municipal board, saying the meeting would clash with the Durga Puja season if the elections were held after September 15. The government suggested that the polls be held on September 9.
“Durga Puja starts from Sasthi on October 10. So there is no chance of any clash of the first board meeting with the Puja,” a legal expert said.