Rural polls unlikely before April
Panchayat polls in Bengal are unlikely to be held before April-May, a source in the State Election Commission said.
Although there are still a few months left for the tenure of the current panchayats to get over, there was a buzz in the administrative circles that the polls would be held by the end of January or February. “It appears that there is no possibility of the panchayat polls being held early. We believe they will be held sometime in April or May if not even later,” an official at the State Election Commission said, adding that polls in March are out of the question since the Madhyamik and High Secondary examinations are scheduled during the month.
The last Panchayat polls were held on May 14, 2018, and the boards at the three tiers of the panchayats were formed even later. The commission’s endeavour to complete the delimitation of constituencies and reservation of seats at the panchayat levels by November 25, hinted at the fact that it was bracing up for an early election. The final list of reserved seats for office-bearers at the gram panchayat, panchayat samity and zilla parishad was published on December 30.
Delimitation of constituencies and reservation of seats at the panchayat levels is done every ten years in Bengal to keep up with the expanding population. According to sources, the polls can be held after 42 days after the publication of the final list of reservations for office-bearers. In the current scenario, the commission can go to polls right after February 10. However, it needs a nod from the state government--which is unlikely to happen--to do so.
“We are ready to go to polls. All the procedure we had to get done with, is over. But I don’t think the government will want it anytime soon,” the source added.
The chances of early rural polls grew thinner on Monday as the Trinamul Congress launched a public outreach program to be carried out till the end of February. It was clear that the initiative is meant to give the party a boost in the rural belts where it has suffered substantial damages, courtesy of rampant corruption.
Moreover, the state plans to buy time for the union government to clear dues pending under the NREGA scheme and disburse the money to the rural populace before it goes to the polls. The Center is yet to disburse Rs 2685 Crores to Bengal on account of material components and Rs 2748 Crores for wages payable under the NREGA scheme.
“Corruption at the rural level has been overwhelming. On top of that, the Center is not disbursing funds under the 100-day job scheme. We hope that they will send the money by February. Once we receive it we will distribute it amongst the villagers. This will help us regain some of their trust,” a state minister said. Opposition parties--both CPM and BJP--alleged the Trinamul of delaying the polls to suit itself. CPM veteran Samik Lahiri said that Trinamul is using its power to delay polls until it feels is the right time.
“They will not go to polls unless they feel its safe for them,” Lahiri said. BJP’s chief spokesperson Shamik Bhattacharya said that even this ‘forced delay’ will not help the Trinamul since it has suffered major face loss with regard to the corruption in the PM Awas Yojana.
“The poor people have seen how undeserving Trinamul leaders and supporters were given houses under the scheme,” he said.