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Govt ‘cold feet’ on civic elections

Calcutta, May 20: The Bengal government is allegedly dragging its feet on elections to 17 civic bodies where the BJP has got Lok Sabha poll leads in most wards.

According to Nabanna sources, the state government did not want to hold the civic polls “anytime soon” and was buying time to allow Trinamul recover ground in the areas. The elections to the 17 civic bodies have to be conducted by June 28 and the state should have begun work on the poll process in early January.

Of the 17 civic areas, the BJP has got substantial leads in Asansol, Kulti, Islampur and Siliguri.

For the civic polls to be conducted by the state election commission, the Bengal government was supposed to give a go-ahead six months before the deadline. If the elections are not held on time, the 17 civic bodies will have to be run by administrators appointed by the government.

“Initially, the government delayed the process because it did not want the polls to take place during the tenure of state election commissioner Mira Pande (who will retire in July). But now, after the Lok Sabha poll results, the government does not want the civic elections anytime soon,” a senior Nabanna official said.

Appointing administrators to the 17 civic bodies will give the government a six-month window to conduct the elections.

Trinamul sources cited another reason for the delay in holding the elections — Mamata Banerjee was tired after the Lok Sabha polls.

“The government is not keen on holding the polls in July as the Lok Sabha elections went on till mid-May,” said a source close to the chief minister, adding that the elections could be conducted after the Pujas.

A BJP delegation led by the party’s state general secretary, Asim Sarkar, met commissioner Pande today and requested that the polls be held on time.

“The chief minister is scared of holding the elections on time because of the Narendra Modi wave. She has seen how the BJP emerged as a force in Asansol and Siliguri,” said Rahul Sinha, the Bengal BJP president.

Although the BJP won two Lok Sabha seats in Bengal, it led in 21 Assembly segments.

Home department officials said the government was on the lookout for suitable replacements for Pande and Tapas Ray, who retired as the commission secretary in April.

The state election commission under Pande had locked horns with the state government last year over deployment of central forces and appointment of observers for the panchayat polls.

The tussle reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of the commission on the issue of force deployment. Sources said the government did not want to risk another friction with the 1974-batch IAS officer.

Poll panel sources said the commission had sent three reminders to the state government till March on holding the civic polls. They said the reminders went unheeded.

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

CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb, who liaisons with the state and central poll panels on behalf of the Left Front, said today: “This is what this government specialises in. Nothing surprises us anymore.”

THE 17

Civic bodies where polls must be held by June 28

  • Mal
  • Kaliaganj
  • Gangarampur
  • Madhyamgram
  • Rajarhat-Gopalpur
  • South Dum Dum
  • Dum Dum
  • Rajpur-Sonarpur
  • Maheshtala
  • Uluberia
  • Dankuni
  • Egra
  • Sainthia
  • Asansol
  • Kulti
  • Islampur
  • Siliguri (Mahakuma Parishad)