SEC Tells Cal HC Date of Rural Poll Nomination May Be Extended by a Day; Court Reserves Verdict

The State Election Commission (SEC) on Monday told the Calcutta High Court that it can extend the last date of filing nominations for the July 8 panchayat polls in West Bengal by a day to June 16.

Concluding the hearing of PILs by opposition politicians for extension of dates for filing nominations for the July 8 panchayat polls in West Bengal, the Calcutta High Court reserved its judgement, but said it will issue appropriate directions to ensure that nominations are filed properly.

Opposition parties are alleging that the ruling Trinamool Congress workers are not allowing their candidates to file nomination papers and are resorting to violence.

The SEC on June 8 announced that the polls would be held on July 8 and the last date for filing nominations is June 15.

The court had on June 9 observed that the time given for filing nominations for the three-tier rural elections is prima facie inadequate.

A division bench presided by Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam reserved judgement on the petitions after conclusion of submissions by all parties who also prayed for deployment of central forces during the election process for ensuring security of the voters as well as the candidates.

Submitting a report on Monday before the bench, SEC counsel Jayanta Mitra stated that it can extend by a day from June 15 to June 16 the last date of nomination filing for the panchayat polls without disturbing the other announced dates, including the election on July 8.

The high court had directed the SEC to file the report in the form of an affidavit on the petitions by state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and leader of the opposition Suvendu Adhikari of the BJP.

Adhikari’s counsel S Guru Krishnakumar submitted that the poll notification was made within a day of the new commissioner taking charge, questioning what kind of consultation could have taken place within such period with the state government for fixing the election date.

He said that the rules provide that the state government shall in consultation with the SEC decide the dates for the election.

Taking note of the report and the submissions of the petitioners, the court said “whatever has to be done to ensure that the nominations are filed in a proper manner, we shall issue appropriate directions.”

The bench, also comprising Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, noted that what appears to be the grievance of the petitioners is that for the 2023 polls, nomination filing started from the date of notification on June 9, while in 2018 elections, notification was made on May 27 and the nominations started from June 2, giving a clear five days for preparation.

The bench said that similarly, with the notification having been made on June 9, the nomination could have started from June 16 giving the administration as well as the intending candidates reasonable time to prepare.

Maintaining that it wants a “realistic schedule”, the court said that the SEC may give five days between publication of notification and the commencement of nomination. It can then give six days for filing of nomination from June 15 and reschedule the remaining dates.

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It said that June 21 would thus be the last date for filing nomination, June 23 for scrutiny, June 26 will be the last date for withdrawal of nomination and the polls be held on July 17.

The bench said that the confidence of the electorate should not be shaken and they must be able to exercise their franchise in a free and fair manner and that the SEC has wide powers to ensure that.

Adhikari’s counsel submitted that 20,000 seats were won uncontested by ruling party candidates in the 2018 panchayat elections in the state.

Submitting there are over 73,000 seats where elections are to be held – the zilla parishads, panchayat samitis and gram panchayats, he said that only four hours each day have been provided for in the six days for filing the huge number of nominations.

SEC counsel Mitra informed the court that more than 10,000 nomination forms have so far been filed.

On the prayer for deployment of central force, Mitra submitted that it is for the SEC to take a call on whether the state force is adequate or not, while assuring the court that law and order will be properly maintained during the election process and that electors will be able to freely exercise their franchise.

Seeking deployment of central force, lawyer Kaustav Bagchi, appearing for Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury claimed that violence is already taking place and that one person has been killed.

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