Kolkata: In a setback to the West Bengal government, the Calcutta High Court on Friday directed that panchayat polls be held in three phases with centra police cover, upholding the primacy of the State Election Commission, saying it was non-negotiable.
A single judge of the High Court Justice Biswanath Somadder directed that the rural polls be held in three phases as sought by the Commission, rejecting the state`s notification for holding the elections in two phases.
Shortly after the direction was given, the Mamata Banerjee government decided to appeal against the order before a division bench.
Holding there was absolute necessity to hold the polls before the term of the present panchayats ended sometime in June, Justice Somadder observed that it was an extraordinary situation and as such it required extraordinary directions.
Justice Somadder, passing the order on the SEC`s petition claiming that the state government`s decision to hold the rural polls in two phases was unilateral and the need to deploy central forces, directed the state to provide within tomorrow names of 400 observers from IAS and WBCS Executive cadre to the commission, as demanded by it.
Also accepting the SEC`s prayer for holding the elections with central forces, which was vehemently opposed by the state, the court directed the state to inform the SEC on the number of central forces, forces from other states and forces from within the state to be used for the elections by tomorrow.
Justice Somadder said he would not give observations on the SEC`s prayer for adequate funds as the state has submitted that adequate funds would be provided for holding the panchayat elections.
The court directed the SEC to instruct all political parties not to use the observations of the court in the instant case during election campaign.
With regard to the SEC`s demand for 800 companies of central armed police force, the judge observed that "a minute reading of the state`s director general of police`s letter shows that the state police could not provide armed guards at all premises where elections would be held, much less at all polling stations."
Justice Somadder also observed that as the DGP had himself
said in his letter to the home secretary that some central forces could be used, the state`s contention that central forces were not required could not stand to reason.
He also noted that the state government did not provide the actual availability of forces to buttress its claim that it had adequate forces.
Justice Somadder observed that funds crunch could not stand in the way of holding elections in a free, fair and peaceful manner.
He said he would not give observations on the SEC`s prayer for adequate funds as the state has submitted that adequate funds would be provided for holding the panchayat elections.
Reacting to the order, Panchayat Minister, Subrata Mukherjee said, "We will appeal against the order before a division bench as early as possible because it is unrealistic and will undermine the federal structure and the state`s minimum powers.
"It is not true that we are not accepting the order. The order is so unrealistic that it is not possible for the administration to implement it," he said.
Asked what was unrealistic about the order, Mukherjee said "It is not possible to prepare a list of 400 observers and make arrangements for central forces by tomorrow.
"Also, how can we ask the Centre for central forces, unless the date of poll is announced by the SEC?" he asked.
"There is a minimum procedure for requesting the Centre for central force which takes time," he said.
Asked if the state government was against deployment of central forces, he replied, "If the court directs then there is no objection. But there is procedural and administrative objections to its implementation."
Claiming that the order favoured `vested interests`, he said, the CPI(M), Congress and BJP would be benefited "as they do not want the panchayat elections as they are afraid of defeat.
State Election Commissioner Mira Pandey said "The SEC`s stand has been vindicated by this order."
She told reporters that the SEC would take further decisions after going through the court order.
Welcoming the direction of the Calcutta High Court, the Congress and CPI(M) said that it was a `moral defeat` for the state government.