Court vindicates poll panel, raps Mamata government

Kolkata, May 10 (IANS) In a telling blow to the already beleaguered Mamata Banerjee government, the Calcutta High Court Friday ordered a three-phase panchayat (rural body) polls in West Bengal with deployment of central armed police personnel. The state government announced it would appeal against the “impractical” order.

In a verdict of far-reaching consequences, Justice Biswanath Sommader upheld the primacy of the State Election Commission which had challenged the state overnment’s announcement of a two-stage poll under the supervision of only the state security forces.

Terming the verdict as “impractical, impossible to implement and unacceptable”, state Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee declared that the government would move the division bench Monday.

Addressing a rally at Burdwan, Chief Minister Banerjee asserted the elections would be held at the right time despite a “conspiracy hatched by opposition parties to prevent a timely panchayat polls.

“We have been trying to hold panchayat election in the state since September (2012). Who has gone to court? Those who will lose- the CPI-M, Congress, the BJP,” said Banerjee.

The SEC had moved the petition April 1 questioning section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Election Act, citing which the Banerjee government March 22 had announced two-phased polls to be held April 26 and April 30, under the supervision of the state police personnel.

Justice Sommader directed the state government to finalise the list of election observers and intimate the poll panel about it by Saturday.

The verdict also asked the Banerjee government, which in an affidavit had admitted to a shortfall of security personnel requisite for the polls, to intimate the SEC by Saturday about “fully compensating the shortfall of security personnel by deployment of central paramilitary forces as well as forces from other states”.

The court described the Banerjee government’s refusal to deploy central security forces, despite repeated requests by the poll panel, as “unreasonable”.

It described the SEC as an “apolitical constitutional body having a pivotal role in conducting and supervising fair elections” , and directed it to draw up the revised poll schedule “as soon as possible”, and conduct the elections before the term of existing panchayats expire.

“It is absolutely necessary to hold the elections before the expiry of the present term of the panchayat,” said Justice Sommader about the existing tenure of the rural bodies slated to expire in June.

The government came in for sharp criticism from the court for defending its refusal to deploy central security forces citing financial constraints.

“Resources, funds can never stand in way of elections,” said Justice Sommader.

The Commission has also been asked to notify the political parties, directing them not to use the court’s observations in the petition for or during their poll campaign.

The court rap has come at a time the Banerjee government is on a sticky wicket following the Saradha chit fund scandal which has triggered unrest in the state with lakhs of depositors who had parked their hard earned money in the Group companies starign at an uncertain future.

Meanwhile, the opposition hailed the verdict.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist as well as the Congress lost no time in castigating the Banerjee government and said the court’s decision has justified their stand on the issue.

Not surprisingly Commission chief Meera Pandey expressed happiness at the verdict. “The Commission is happy that its stand has been vindicated.”

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