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Uncertainty Over Bengal Panchayat Poll on May 14 as Calcutta HC Says Date Not Final

The order was passed in response to a writ petition filed by the state's opposition parties alleging possible large-scale violence by the ruling TMC during the election.

Sujit Nath | News18.com

Updated:May 1, 2018, 9:49 PM IST
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Uncertainty Over Bengal Panchayat Poll on May 14 as Calcutta HC Says Date Not Final
File photo of the Calcutta High Court.
Kolkata: There is uncertainty over whether the already delayed West Bengal panchayat poll would be held on May 14, with the Calcutta High Court saying on Tuesday that the date set by the State Election Commission is not final.

A single judge bench of Justice Subrata Talukdar said that May 14 could be a tentative date but not the final one and referred the matter to a division bench. The next hearing will be on Friday. “The division bench which is also hearing a case on security issues during the Panchayat poll will decide the election dates,” he said.

The order was passed in response to a writ petition filed by the state's opposition parties alleging possible large-scale violence by the ruling TMC during the election.

Justice Talukdar directed the SEC to place details on security arrangements for the elections before the division bench. Earlier too, he had directed the SEC to submit a detailed report on security arrangements before the division bench.

The order is a setback for the West Bengal Election Commission (WBEC) and the Mamata Banerjee government, which had pressed for the election to be completed before the Holy Month of Ramzan starts on May 15.

The WBEC had announced the single-phase election on the suggestion of the ruling Trinamool Congress government. While voting was to be held on May 14, re-polling and counting was fixed for May 16 and May 17 respectively.

The panchayat polls were earlier supposed to be held in three phases on May 1, 3 and 5 but were delayed after opposition parties alleged their candidates were being stopped from filing nominations. The WBEC had previously cited security concerns for the three-phase poll process, so the decision to later complete the poll in one day had raised eyebrows.

Presently, there are 58,000 booths in Panchayat election. The state has only 46,000 armed policemen and 12,000 unarmed policemen. So, it would be a tough task to provide ample security at the voting booths. Usually, two to three policeman, including one armed, guard a poll booth.

State BJP president Dilip Ghosh welcomed the HC order. “We have full faith on Calcutta High Court and we are confident of getting justice. Presently, the situation is not conducive to conduct Panchayat Polls in Bengal. Security of people and the Opposition leaders is a major concern. I welcome Hon’ble Justice Subrata Talukdar’s decision and now the division bench will decide on the poll date on May 4,” he said.

Congress state president Adhir Chowdhury said the party wants the court to monitor the poll process as it doesn’t trust the state election commission.

The panchayat election assumes significance as it is the last major poll in the state before the 2019 general elections. Elections will be held in 48,751 seats in 3,354 gram panchayats, 9,240 seats in 341 panchayat samitis and 825 seats in 20 zilla parishads across the 20 districts.

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| Edited by: Tarun Bhardwaj
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