Calcutta HC dismisses petitions seeking declaration of Bengal rural polls void

The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday dismissed petitions seeking that the 2023 West Bengal panchayat election be declared void because of non-compliance of basic principles of the Constitution and the statute to ensure free and fair polls.

The court also rejected a prayer for removal of the state election commissioner, holding that such a prayer is not maintainable as it is an independent constitutional body.

A division bench presided by Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam held in a judgement that the reliefs sought for in the writ petitions seeking that the polls be declared void because of non-compliance of basic principles of Constitution and the statute to ensure free and fair polls cannot be granted.

Two petitions seeking similar reliefs were dismissed by the bench that also comprised Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya.

The bench held that the issues raised in the petitions have been settled in an earlier matter by the high court and the decision was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The earlier order of June 13 said that if an election is to be called in question, which may have the effect of interrupting, obstructing or protracting the election proceedings in any manner, invoking of judicial remedy has to be postponed till after the completion of proceedings in elections.

“Without interrupting, obstructing or delaying the progress of the election proceedings, judicial intervention is available if assistance of the court has been sought for merely to correct or smoothen the progress of the election proceedings, to remove the obstacles therein, or to preserve a vital piece of evidence.,” it had said.

The petitioners filed the writ petitions as public interest litigation praying that the panchayat election in the state be declared as void because of non-compliance of basic principles of the Constitution and the statute to ensure free and fair elections.

It was also prayed that an independent agency be directed to investigate into the affairs of filing of nomination of candidates belonging to the ruling party in an abnormally short span of time, claiming that 76,000 nominations were filed in two days including filing of nominations by persons who are not in India.

It was claimed that the nomination of a person belonging to the ruling party was filed when he was in Saudi Arabia.

The SEC had cancelled the nomination of the said person after receiving a complaint in this regard.

Senior counsel Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, appearing for one petitioner, had submitted that in many cases the candidates were prevented from filing the nominations and that several of the persons who had filed nominations were threatened to withdraw the nominations.

Jishnu Saha, the senior advocate appearing for the SEC, had submitted that the petitioners’ plea is a very belated attempt and no specific instance had been pointed out and the allegations are vague.

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Advocate General S N Mookherjee for the state had submitted that the principle of non-interference by court in election of the 3-tier panchayat system is on the same basis as that of parliamentary and assembly elections and as such that may be followed in these petitions.

It was submitted by the petitioner’s lawyer that when the intending candidates of the opposition parties could not file their nominations or were even forced to withdraw their nominations, the ruling party filed 76,000 nominations within two days and that is impossible unless the nomination papers were filed in bunch with the assistance of the state government machinery.

It was prayed that this issue needs to be investigated.

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