Observing that the announced election schedule provides insufficient time for submission of nominations, Calcutta High Court on Friday directed the Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) to clarify its position on the reconsidering panchayat poll schedule, less than a day after it was announced.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam, during the course of a joint hearing of two separate petitions filed by Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari and Bengal Pradesh Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury on Friday, observed that the commission should consider deferring the Panchayat polls on account of the short notice for filing of nominations.
Interestingly, during a course of a meeting with district SPs and DMs taking place almost simultaneously with the court hearing, newly-appointed commission chief Rajiva Sinha expressed that it would not be possible to change poll schedule and that the last dates of filing and withdrawal of nominations would remain unchanged.
In the wake of the court’s prima facie finding that the announced poll schedule provides inadequate time to allow candidates to file nominations, the Bench directed the SEC to submit its stand on extending nomination deadline in the form of an affidavit on June 12 when the matter would be heard next. A separate report from the state government has also been sought on security arrangements for peaceful polls.
The High Court also directed the SEC to videograph all proceedings of the elections till results and advised the Commission to allow filing of nominations in online mode to ensure free, fair and transparent polls. “The relevant Act should have been amended to include the provision of filing nominations in virtual mode. In the current age of technology, the state should set an example by introducing the system of online nomination. It should not be allergic to using technology to ensure free and fair polls. The online system would not only ease up the nomination filing process, it would also significantly unburden the process of scrutiny,” the Bench observed.The court reminded the Commission of a previous court order disallowing the government to involve civic volunteers in the election process. “The commission should keep that in mind before arranging for security deployments,” the Bench stated.
Responding to Adhikari’s plea for deployment of central forces, the court directed the state to consider joint deployment of state and central forces for the single phase polls scheduled to take place on July 8.
While state election commissioner Sinha reportedly said in his meeting with the district top brass that details of deployment of state police forces would be finalized at a later stage, it was learnt from sources at state secretariat Nabanna that the Mamata Banerjee government is contemplating requesting police force from the adjacent states of Bihar and Odisha.
The commission, on its part, declared five districts – Birbhum, East Midnapore, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and Jalpaiguri – as ‘sensitive’, warranting additional security deployment in those regions.
In its submission before the court, the Bengal government requested the Bench to consider directing the Centre to bring about the necessary changes in law. It also drew the court’s attention to the “additional time taken by Governor CV Ananda Bose in granting his approval for the new state election commissioner”. “Once the election is notified, the court cannot intervene in the process of conduct of polls,” the government argued.