Bengal notifies panchyat poll schedule, deadlock continues

Kolkata, May 17 (IANS) The West Bengal government Friday issued a notification proposing a three-phase panchayat polls July 2, July 6 and July 10. However, the deadlock on the issue continued with State Election Commission (SEC) officials indicating their reservations on the schedule.

The schedule will be finalised once the SEC issues a notification after studying the state government’s proposal.

“We have received a notification from the state government. We are examining it and accordingly we will take a decision,” said SEC secretary Tapas Roy.

The government notification proposed polls in nine districts – North 24 Paganas, South 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia and Budwan – in the first phase. Four districts – Malda, Murshidabad, Birbhum and Nadia – go to the hustings in the second, and four other districts – Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur – in the final leg.

Roy did not rule out writing to the state government on the issue.

“The SEC can always write to the state government. The three-day time-frame given by the court was to the government, and not to the SEC,” he said.

An SEC official said there were differences between the commission and the state government over the schedule on the district-wise division and on eletion dates clashing with religious occasions like Rathayatra and Ramzan.

“As per the proposed schedule, more than 60 percent of the polling will be over on the first day. That includes the three left wing extremist-hit districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. We will have to examine it,” said the official.

The opposition Left Front and the Congress said at an all-party meeting Friday that the third phase clashes with the Rathayatra, and should be advanced to July 9.

“In the third phase, the polls are proposed to be held in Cooch Behar, where the Rathayatra festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm,” said Left Front representative and CPI-M state secretariat member Rabin Deb.

“The month of Ramzan begins July 11. Keeping in mind the Rathayatra festival, the final phase can be brought forward to July 9. Election Commissioner Meera Pandey recorded our suggestion and said she would speak to the government,” said Congress leader Manas Bhuniya.

Deb also expressed his opposition to Howrah district being included in the first phase of the polls. “The Howrah Lok sabha by-polls are scheduled for June 2. So ahead of that, there would be a 48-hour no campaign period. If the district is included in the first phase, the campaign period for the panchayat polls will be far less. The poll schedule has been drawn up carelessly,” he said.

The lead up to the polls has been marred by constant friction between the Mamata Banerjee led state government and the SEC, as both claimed primacy in announcing the schedule.

After the state government announced two-phase polls, the SEC moved the Calcutta High Court demanding scrapping of two sections in the state Panchayat Election Act, which empowers the state government to decide on the schedule.

High Court judge Biswanath Sommader upheld the primacy of the SEC and said it would announce the election timetable. But after the state government moved an appeal to the division bench, the court ordered the panchayat polls to be concluded in three phases by July 15, and directed the state government to notify the dates and schedule.

The court had also asked the state government to propose the dates within three days by Friday.

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