Mamata’s failings: Court battles? (West Bengal Newsletter)

Kolkata June 29 (IANS) The legal woes of West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee government seem to be unending. After suffering setbacks in a number of crucial cases, including the Singur issue, the government has now burnt its fingers on the tussle with the State Election Commission (SEC) on the panchayat polls.

The Supreme Court order Friday directing five-phased polls instead of the three-stage exercise earlier notified by the state government has given fresh ammunition to Banerjee’s detractors, though Banerjee and her lieutenants are trying to put up a brave face.

Putting an end to the prolonged legal stand-off between the SEC and the state government over deploying adequate security forces, an apex court bench of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Ranjan Gogoi said Friday that polling will be held July 11, 15, 19, 22 and 25.

With the Bengal government saying it could make available 35,000 security personnel for each of the five phases, the central government has been directed to provide rest of the forces.

The elections to the three-tier panchayats were slated to be held on July 2, 6 and 9. Later, the Calcutta High Court had suggested five-phased polls July 2, 4, 6, 8 and 9, but there was no unanimity between the two contesting parties on the matter.

The state government had originally wanted to conduct the polls at one go, but later pitched for two-stage polls sans central security forces.

Following a standoff between the SEC and directives from the Calcutta High Court, the state government notified the polls on July 2, 6 and 9 and also reluctantly asked for central paramilitary forces.

With the centre expressing its inability to provide the forces due to “overstretched deployment”, the Commission sought the refuge of the apex court, which eventually upheld its primacy and allowed all its pleas on the polls.

Not surprisingly the SEC has described the verdict as a triumph of the constitution. While opposition parties heartily welcomed the verdict, the ruling Trinamool Congress said it has to accept the court’s verdict.

“Elections during the Ramzan month will pose problems for the people of the minority community. We did not want it. But sometimes, we have to accept under compulsion when there is a court order,” Banerjee said, reacting to the court’s order.

CPI-M leader Mohammad Salim said the verdict “should come as lesson for the Trinamool and that it should not embarrass itself further by defying the SEC”.

State Congress President Pradip Bhattacharya said “it was time for the Banerjee regime to learn from its mistakes and respect constitutional bodies like the SEC”.

The verdict is the latest jolt for the Trinamool from a court. The high court had earlier ruled the Singur land act unconstitutional and ordered a CBI probe into a custodial death.

Immediately after coming to power, Banerjee had enacted the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development, Act 2011 to return a portion of land acquired for the Tata Motors small car factory in Hooghly district “unwilling farmers”. The Calcutta High Court struck it down in June 2012, terming it “unconstitutional and void”.

The high court had, earlier this year directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the alleged custodial death of a Trinamool worker in Dhaniakhali, also in Hooghly. The state government’s plea challenging the order was rejected by the Supreme Court.

In another significant verdict, the Calcutta High Court June 24 struck down the West Bengal Tax on Entry of Goods into Local Areas Act, 2012 as unconstitutional.

The government said the act, which levied a one percent tax on the entry of certain goods into the state, was aimed at facilitating trade and industry by creating infrastructure like roads, bridges and cold storage chains.

A number of companies had filed a writ petition before the Calcutta High Court in November 2012 challenging the constitutional validity of the Act.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at [email protected])

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