Kolkata: The State Election Commission (SEC) on Thursday announced the schedule for holding panchayat elections in West Bengal. According to the SEC, the single-phase panchayat polls will be held on May 14 in West Bengal. "The panchayat election will be held on May 14," a spokesman of the SEC told newsmen here. Repoll, if needed, will be held on May 16, the SEC said.
The counting will take place on May 17, the SEC said in a notification. The decision came after a recommendation from the state government that the polls be held on May 14.
The elections were earlier slated to be held in three phases on May 1, 3 and 5.
But the schedule was pushed back after the Calcutta High Court stayed the polling process on petitions moved by the opposition parties which complained that they were not being allowed to file nominations allegedly by armed miscreants owing allegiance to the ruling Trinamool Congress.
Justice Subrata Talukdar then asked the SEC to extend the deadline for submitting nomination by a day. In conformity with the order, the SEC declared April 23 as the extended date for filing of nominations.
Angry over the SEC announcement, the opposition parties said the state lacked adequate number of police personnel to provide fool-proof security and alleged the poll panel never discussed the matter with them, despite a direction from the high court.
"The court had directed the SEC to hold discussions with all political parties. So far we have not received invitation for any such deliberations," said BJP leader Pratap Banerjee.
"Secondly, the SEC should ponder over what kind of security it is providing the voters. There are around 58,000 polling booths. The total umber of personnel with the state police is also 58,000. Does that mean all police stations will be under lock and key, and all personnel will guard the booths?
"Or will there be a jungle raj with all miscreants backed by Trinamool flexing their muscles at the booths? The Trinamool wants to prevent genuine voters from exercising their franchise, so that anti-socials can indulge in false voting," said Banerjee.
Left Front chairman and senior CPI-M leader Biman Bose also pulled up the SEC for not talking to representatives of political parties before announcing the polling date.
"The state government asked the SEC unilaterally to hold polls on May 14, and it has obliged.
"It seems they want a blood-splattered polling day. The state government is leading the SEC through a road which can only push the state to the graveyard of democracy," said Bose.
Former state Congress chief Pradip Bhattacharya said the ruling Trinamool was going ahead in its mission to create an "opposition-free" state.
"The state government knows a single-day polling will lead to mayhem. The Trinamool-backed goons will capture booths and vote. This will only result in there being not a single opposition party among the elected representatives in the state.
"This is unprecedented in India," said Bhattacharya, currently a Rajya Sabha member.
Meanwhile, a delegation of BJP leaders from West Bengal met Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday to apprise them of the ongoing violence in the state ahead of the upcoming panchayat polls.
The BJP leaders including General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, secretary Rahul Sinha, Rajya Sabha member Rupa Ganguly and Mukul Roy submitted a memorandum to Naidu appealing him to take serious cognizance.
"Democracy is being slaughtered in West Bengal and we appeal to your high office to take cognizance of this acute assault on democracy by the ruling TMC. Lives, democratic rights, democratic space, Constitutional machinery and freedom are not safe anymore in the state," the memorandum read.
Later, addressing a press conference at party headquarters in presence of the victims of the pre-poll violence, former Railway Minister Mukul Roy said in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is the killer of democracy.
"Bengal is quite different from other states. In other states, nobody raises a finger on democracy either in civic body or in general elections. But in Bengal election, Mamata has made a mockery of democracy," he said.
Attacking Banerjee, Roy said she has encouraged Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers to create law and order problem across the state and intimidate candidates from other parties to stop them from filing their nominations.
"The BDO office and the SDO office was totally blocked by the Trinamool goons under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. Mamata was the designated Home Minister. She instructed all the SPs, BDOs and DMs not to intervene, so the police kept mum," he said.
(With Agency inputs)