Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday heard a petition by the Congress seeking quashing of the May 14 Panchayat poll date in West Bengal on grounds of inadequate security arrangements and said it would hear the case again on Thursday before pronouncing its verdict.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya and Arijit Banerjee heard the petitioners and respondents in the case and took stock of the deployment of armed forces on the polling day.
West Bengal Advocate General Kishore Dutta said the state has 71,500 armed personnel to be deployed during the polling day in addition to 80,000 civic volunteers and pointed out that the state administration would be able to post one armed personnel and one person carrying baton in each of the polling booths.
"The state has 500 inspectors, 10,000 sub-inspectors and assistant sub-inspectors and 61,000 constables, home guards and National Volunteer Force (NVF). There are 80,000 civic volunteers also. A polling premise is comprised of four to five polling booths. So there would be enough armed forces for the security," he said.
State Election Commission (SEC) counsel Shaktinath Mukherjee said it considers the forces to be adequate to conduct the single-phase polling. He said the state had 35,000 armed personnel during the previous rural polls which was way lesser than the current figure.
However, the counsels of the opposition parties said they are not satisfied with the security arrangements and raised objections claiming the civic volunteers cannot be used in law and order issue.
They also opposed the pattern of force deployment proposed by the state administration as the SEC has identified some booths as sensitive and highly sensitive, where more number of personnel is required.
Objections were raised by another body named `Sarkari Karmachari Parishad` that filed a separate petition before the court seeking the deployment of central forces to ensure the security of several government employees who would be working as polling officers on the day of election.
Pointing out that all the elections in the state barring one since 2011 were conducted with the central forces, the body claimed providing security to the polling officers is of utmost important because if they are deterred from their duty, the election would not be free and fair.
Earlier in the day, the state Advocate General questioned the maintainability of the Congress petition and claimed the plea filed by state Congress President Adhir Chowdhury should not be entertained as it might involve political interest.
Chowdhury argued that he filed the plea not as a representative of political party but to protect the interest of common people.
He accused the SEC of playing second fiddle to the state government in every aspect of the election process and has not taken any action against the state`s ruling Trinamool Congress that resorted to large scale pre-poll violence since the election is announced.
He also claimed that 34 per cent seats in the rural polls have been declared as uncontested this time which is unprecedented in the state.