Panchayat polls: SC issues notice to centre, West Bengal

New Delhi, June 26 (IANS) The Supreme Court Wednesday issued notice to the central and West Bengal governments on a petition by the state’s election commission seeking adequate security for holding panchayat elections in the state.

The apex court bench of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice Ranjan Gogoi issued the notice after West Bengal State Election Commission’s (SEC) counsel Meenakshi Arora told the court that the state government was dragging its feet over providing security forces though directed by the Calcutta High Court by its May 14 order.

Directing that the matter be listed June 28, the apex court said the central and West Bengal governments would “apprise it as to how they propose to meet the deployment of the security forces mentioned by the May 14 order of the high court” and in two subsequent communications from the SEC.

The West Bengal government Tuesday suggested a four-phase polls instead of three stages as notified earlier, but the state poll panel turned down the proposal in the Calcutta High Court.

The apex court also issued notice to the chief secretary of West Bengal and the secretary of the state’s ministry of panchayat raj.

The high court May 14 said that in “highly sensitive areas” there would be two armed policemen and two constables for each polling booth and in “sensitive areas” there would be only two armed policemen per polling booth.

In the less sensitive areas, one armed personnel and one constable would be provided and there would be only one armed man per polling booth in normal areas.

Meenakshi Arora told the court that the SEC sought deployment of 241,760 security personnel for conducting elections to panchayats spread over 60,000 polling booths in three phases.

The court was told that the SEC had 145,000 armed and 96,000 unarmed security personnel.

Arora said the poll panel could not suspend the elections for long.

“It (holding elections) is a constitutional obligation and it has to be discharged. I have no problem in (holding elections) in more phases but I must know the number of the security personnel that will be available for conducting elections. I can’t suspend elections to local bodies indefinitely,” said the counsel for the SEC.

“I am not asking for anything beyond what the high court ordered May 14,” said Arora, adding that 10,000 panchayat seats had already been decided without a contest.

She said though the West Bengal government gave an assurance and an undertaking, recorded in the high court’s June 3-4 orders, on June 12 it asked its officers to ignore the advisory issued by the SEC May 22.

As senior counsel Amarendra Saran, appearing for the state government, sought to contest the submission by Arora, describing the SEC petition as an abuse of judicial process, Justice Patnaik asked him: “Do you want elections or not?”

“We (state government) want elections but commission does not want to hold elections,” Saran submitted.

“An impression is given… If you want elections, then allow us to handle the matter,” Justice Patnaik said as Saran told the court that the matter was still pending before the high court.

Justice Patnaik said that on the strength of the available information, the court knew much more than what was being told to it.

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