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Minister tears into ‘eager’ Mira

Calcutta, June 25: Trinamul minister Firhad Hakim today launched an attack on state election commissioner Mira Pande for moving Calcutta High Court seeking an order on timely civic polls, the process of which the government has been accused of delaying.

Municipal affairs minister Hakim said at a news conference in the Assembly: “I have never seen a poll panel so eager to conduct elections. She is issuing orders from her air-conditioned chamber. There are some zamindars who rush to court at the drop of a hat. She will not spend money from her pocket to fight the legal battle. Why should the government waste money?”

Pande refused to speak on Hakim’s comments. “I have nothing to say on this. As the state election commissioner, I want the polls to the civic bodies to be held on time,” she told reporters.

The state election commission and the Bengal government had got involved in a legal battle last year over the conduct of the panchayat polls. The issue of primacy in holding the rural polls had reached the Supreme Court. Then too, senior Trinamul leaders had openly criticised Pande, dubbing her a “CPM agent”.

Yesterday, Pande moved the high court requesting it to direct the state government to ensure that elections to 17 civic bodies are held on time. The terms of the civic boards end on June 28 and the poll process should have been started in January.

Minister Hakim said the government was not keen on holding the elections now as it had decided to merge several municipalities with municipal corporations, including some where polls are due. Sources said the move was aimed at delaying the civic polls.

“Once the process is completed, elections will have to be held for the new corporations. Why should we hold elections twice?” Hakim said.

The other reasons cited by the minister are development projects getting held up during the Lok Sabha polls and “hardships” faced by election personnel and political workers during voting in summer and monsoon.

“The election commissioner will not go to the booths. Government employees who double as poll staff will have to go to the booths. She should go to a booth in Uluberia on polling day,” Hakim said.

Earlier in the day, poll panel counsel L.C. Behani requested Justice Saumitra Pal to hear the case immediately. But the judge informed the counsel that he would hear it when its turn came.