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Polls? Wait till Pande retires
- State government accused of dragging feet on civic elections

Calcutta, March 20: The Bengal government is allegedly dragging its feet on elections to 17 civic bodies that have to be completed by June 28.

Nabanna sources said the government, which should have begun work on the election process in January, did not want the polls to take place during the tenure of state election commissioner Mira Pande.

Pande is scheduled to retire in July.

A state election commission source said: “The government is yet to respond to three letters on the issue. The first letter was sent early this year. It was followed up with two reminders, the last of which was sent last week. But we are yet to receive any reply. I don’t think the elections will be possible before the expiry of the term of these elected bodies.”

The civic bodies where polls need to be held include Madhyamgram, Rajarhat-Gopalpur, Dum Dum and Asansol. Elections to the Siliguri mahakuma parishad also need to be held by June 28.

Around six months prior to June 28, the state government was supposed to tell the commission to begin the poll process and inform the panel if delimitation of wards was necessary. The civic polls are conducted by the state poll panel but the state government’s go-ahead is required to start the process.

But as of this evening, Pande’s office is yet to hear from the government on when the polls are to take place.

“The government wants the civic polls to be held after Pande’s tenure ends. As the Lok Sabha elections will be held in April-May, it could be used as an excuse to defer the civic polls. Administrators will be appointed to run the bodies for a few weeks. The civic elections could be held in late July or early August,” a source said this evening.

The state election commission and the Bengal government had locked horns last year over the conduct of the panchayat polls, which led to a prolonged court battle.

From the need for central forces to the appointment of observers, Pande had fought the government tooth and nail for the sake of “free, fair and peaceful” rural polls.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of the commission made it impossible for the government to defy Pande. The administration does not want to risk another friction with the 1974-batch IAS officer.

This is not the first time the government has been accused of trying to delay civic polls. Last year, the government had allegedly pushed back polls to 13 civic bodies. The elections were held three months after schedule in September following Calcutta High Court’s intervention.

“The government’s utter defiance of rules, conventions and norms is not surprising anymore. We have no information on any steps being taken to begin the civic poll process,” said CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb, who liaisons with the state and central poll panels on behalf of the Left Front.

Deb today led a delegation to the state chief electoral officer’s office and enquired about the Election Commission of India’s decision on the complaints lodged by the Left against Mamata Banerjee and her party related to campaigning.