The West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) on Monday said before the Calcutta High Court that the state government has proposed that elections to 111 municipal bodies be held by May, 2022 in six to eight phases. The SEC in an affidavit submitted before a division bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice R Bharadwaj also stated that owing to paucity of EVMs, counting of votes cannot be held together.
The SEC affidavit said "the state government has proposed that the municipal elections may be held in 6 - 8 phases by May, 2022" and that the exact schedule will depend upon the Covid-19 situation and the schedule of secondary and higher secondary examinations.
It said that the state government has also cited the uncertain impact of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 as a reason for not being able to finalise the schedule of elections to the 111 municipal bodies. Election to Kolkata Municipal Corporation will be held on December 19.
Maintaining that it has a limited number of EVMs at its disposal, the SEC said that since the elections to other municipalities would have to be held in phases, the results, too, will have to be declared in phases for securing use of maximum number of EVMs. As EVMs employed in one phase will have to be re-used in subsequent phases, counting needs to be completed stage-wise, it said. The SEC said that the West Bengal State Election Commission Act, 1994 provides that "the state government shall, in consultation with the commission, by notification, fix the date or dates on which, and the hours during which, the polls will be taken".
The bench presided by the chief justice had on December 1 directed the SEC and the state to submit before it a plan disclosing the tentative schedule for conducting the election to the municipal bodies of the state by the next date of hearing. The order was passed on a petition by the BJP seeking polls to all municipal bodies in a single day.
The petitioner also prayed that if this was not possible, then simultaneous counting of votes to all municipal bodies be held so that the result of one does not affect the election of another. The SEC and the state had submitted that it plans to hold the elections in a phased manner.
The division bench had also directed the SEC to explore the possibility and feasibility of counting votes after the polling is completed in all municipalities. The court had in its December 1 order said that the SEC is "expected not to declare the election of the municipal bodies in the state in such a manner which will give benefit to one particular party".
The SEC underlined that it is an independent constitutional authority and therefore, immune to any political interest. "The commission has always made sincere endeavour to conduct free and fair elections and impartiality of the commission may not be doubted on the basis of baseless allegations," it submitted.
The bench directed that the matter will be heard again on Tuesday.