SEC’s functioning should give confidence to people about fair panchayat polls: Calcutta  HC

The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday said that the State Election Commission (SEC) should function in such a way that the people of West Bengal get assurance that the upcoming panchayat polls in the state will be free and fair.

The court said as the state decided to hold the panchayat elections in one phase on July 8, there can be no compromise on preparedness, logistics and support from the state machinery.

A division bench presided by Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam said that the SEC “should function in such a manner that the public of the state of West Bengal get confidence with the commission and are rest assured that there will be free and fair elections and the purity of the election process will be preserved.”

Hearing a contempt petition which claimed that the court’s earlier orders on deployment of central forces and ensuring free and fair polls were not adhered to in letter and spirit, the bench said that nothing should be done by the commission to shake the confidence reposed in it by the court.

Widespread violence over the filing of nominations for the three-tier panchayat polls has left at least eight people dead and several injured in various parts of the state in the past two weeks.

The court said that a report on compliance for installing CCTV cameras at polling stations for the July 8 polls in over 61,000 polling stations across the state, is not satisfactory as it only states that orders have been placed for requisitioning those, but it is silent about follow up on those.

The court asked the SEC and the West Bengal government to file reports on the matter and other issues like allegations of rostering contractual staff for election duty and directed that the matter will be taken up for hearing again on July 3.

Noting that a compliance report filed by the SEC on Wednesday as per earlier direction of the court was verbose, the court said that it had in its earlier orders of June 13, June 15 and June 21 had delineated the parameters which are to be adhered to.

It said that, therefore, all that is required of the commission is to answer that in a precise format.

The additional solicitor general, appearing for the Centre, submitted that no reply was received from the commission to a June 24 letter on whether the central forces will be on static duty or they will be deployed in booths, except for district-wise placement for 315 companies.

He stated that the SEC has not intimated the nodal officer on logistic support like accommodation and transport facilities for the central forces.

The expenses of deployment are to be borne by the central government as per an order of the high court.

He submitted that in addition to 337 companies of central forces, the union home ministry has requested 12 states to provide police forces for the panchayat polls in West Bengal.

The ASG submitted that a request has already been placed with the chairman of the Railway Board for providing trains to transport forces from other states to West Bengal.

The court had on June 21 directed the SEC to requisition the deployment of central forces comprising more than 82,000 personnel for the panchayat polls.

During the 2013 rural polls, 82,000 personnel of the central forces were deployed. Since then, the number of districts in West Bengal has increased from 17 to 22 and that of the electorate has also gone up.

The court said on Wednesday that the SEC needs to take cognisance of concerns raised by the Union Home Ministry regarding logistic support like accommodation and transportation for the central forces to be deployed in the state.

The court said that with orders having already been passed by it to ensure free and fair elections and which have been confirmed by the Supreme Court, “there is solemn duty cast upon the SEC as well as the state government to scrupulously obey the orders and directions contained in those orders, including the observations made by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.” PTI AMR

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