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HC poser on civic poll delay

Calcutta, June 26: Calcutta High Court today directed the state government to explain the delay in announcing elections to 17 civic bodies whose term expires between July 18 and 31.

Justice Joymalya Bagchi also directed the municipal affairs department to file an affidavit on July 7 stating what steps the government had taken to implement its decision to convert seven of the 17 civic bodies into corporations.

Earlier in the court, the government pleader had cited the conversion process as a reason for delay in announcing the civic polls. The order today came on a petition the state election commission filed against the government on Tuesday over the delay in beginning the process of the polls to the 17 civic bodies.

Moving the petition before the court, advocate L.C. Behani said: “Since February 4 this year, my client has written several letters to the state municipal affairs department reminding it that terms of the 17 municipalities would end soon.”

“The last letter was sent on June 16. In its reply on June 18, the department informed my client that the government had decided to convert seven of the 17 civic bodies into corporations. Till the process of conversion ends, elections cannot be announced, the department had said,” Behani added.

Citing state civic election rules, the poll panel lawyer told the court that the municipal affairs department should have announced the elections at least 30 days before the terms of the civic bodies expire.

Although the state election commission conducts civic elections, it needs the government’s go-ahead to start the process. Opposing the prayer, government pleader Ashok Banerjee told Justice Bagchi that the state administration had decided to convert the seven municipalities into corporations “for the sake of providing better service to people” and needed time to complete the conversion process.

“It’s better, both on the part of the government and state election commission, to hold elections to all the 17 municipalities in a single phase (after the conversion). So, the government is yet to announce the dates,” lawyer Banerjee said.

After hearing both parties, Justice Bagchi said: “the municipal affairs department will submit its affidavit on July 7 and the state election commission will give its reply on July 10. The case will come up for hearing on July 11.”

The judge added: “If both the parties agree, I want to hear the case in camera.”

Both the parties will formally inform the court if they agree with the judge’s proposal. According to sources, the government is delaying elections to the 17 civic bodies as the BJP has got leads in several civic areas. The government, sources said, wants to hold the polls after Pujas so that Trinamul gets time to regain some ground.