The Telegraph
Wednesday , July 3 , 2013
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Coming up: final push for primacy
Focus shifts to unsettled issue

Calcutta, July 2: The door remains ajar for a court battle between the Bengal election commission and the state government over primacy in conducting the panchayat polls.

Even after a two-month tussle in court, the key issue of primacy remains to be settled although the apex court’s verdict on June 28 and its endorsement today went in favour of the commission.

Sources indicated that the commission might move the Supreme Court once again in the “not-so-distant future” for a resolution of the impasse.

“This verdict is entirely in the commission’s favour and the focus will now be on conducting the panchayat elections. But the commission would like the primacy issue to be resolved once and for all in the form of a Supreme Court verdict,” a source said.

Commission sources said the panel would want to eliminate the possibility of state governments interfering with the independent functioning of state poll panels.

According to them, the empowerment of state election commissions in conducting panchayat and civic polls was a “crucial” part of electoral reforms introduced in India in the past few years.

“This case and its outcome will go down in history. There have been several path-breaking decisions already. For instance, never before have central forces been allotted for panchayat polls,” a Nirvachan Sadan source said.

“The Bengal poll panel has already got its cake. If there is a Supreme Court ruling in its favour on the primacy issue, it would perhaps be the icing,” he added.

The state poll panel had, in its original petition filed in Calcutta High Court on April 1, sought primacy in deciding the election phases and dates. It had also requested the court to strike down Section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act, 2003, as ultra vires of the Constitution.

Section 42 of the Bengal act gives the government the power to fix the dates — also, effectively, the phases — of the panchayat elections in consultation with the poll panel. Article 243K of the Constitution, however, gives the commission the “superintendence, direction and control” of the entire election process.

Commission sources said the battle was not over, though nobody wanted to set a date for a possible next round in court.

“In the absence of a Supreme Court verdict on the matter, such complications (over primacy) could keep cropping up during elections in Bengal. The apex court could again be approached in the future,” a poll panel source said.

The primacy issue was not settled in the Supreme Court as the focus was on security arrangements and how the polls could take place in July.

In its judgment in the 2006 Kishan Singh Tomar versus the Municipal Corporation of Ahmedabad case, the Supreme Court had noted: “From the reading of the said provisions it is clear that the powers of the State Election Commission in respect of conduct of elections is no less than that of the Election Commission of India in their respective domains.”