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Panchayat polls: Calcutta HC refuses to extend date for filing of nomination papers, orders deployment of paramilitary forces during elections in West Bengal

The High Court of Calcutta on Tuesday refused to issue directions to the State Election Commission to extend dates for filing of nomination papers for the upcoming Panchayat polls in West Bengal. 

The Bench led by Chief Justice T.S. Sivagnanam further directed both the SEC and the West Bengal government to deploy paramilitary forces at all polling stations in the state, so as to avoid any kind of violence, specially for the seats declared as sensitive.  

Last week, the State of West Bengal had opposed the June 9 order of the Calcutta High Court, which suggested the state to permit online filing of nomination forms in the panchayat polls, slated to be held in the state on July 8.

Noting that no other state in the country had allowed online filing of nomination forms, the Counsel for the state government said that such a direction should be issued first to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government at the Centre.

The Bench of Chief Justice T.S. Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya had suggested the State Election Commission (SEC) of West Bengal on June 9 to accept forms online.

Appearing before the High Court for SEC, Advocate C.J. Sivagnanam said the Election Commission must be abreast with latest technologies and try using the same to ensure free, fair and violence free elections.

He said filing of nomination papers online would be helpful for scrutiny.

The High Court was hearing a bunch of petitions, seeking among other things, a direction to the SEC to accept nomination forms online.

The petitioners had claimed that the candidates were apprehending threat to their safety as the block offices where nomination has to be filed, have been captured by the ruling Trinamool Congress (AITC) workers.

They requested the High Court to allow the candidates to submit their papers either in the office of the District Magistrate or in the SEC office in Kolkata or through online mode.

The Counsel appearing for the West Bengal government vehemently opposed the suggestion to file online nomination forms, saying that the Central government or the Chief Election Commission should be the first to follow this rule. 

He said let the Union of India modify the rules to accept online nomination papers. The West Bengal government would then consider the proposal.

The Advocate further submitted that even the Parliament did not allow online filing. 

The petitioners further challenged the notification issued by SEC, which granted only five days for candidates to file their nomination papers in the upcoming panchayat polls.

The Bench then observed that the period of five days granted by the SEC was short and would not be sufficient for candidates of over 75,000 seats to submit their papers to fill up and submit their nomination papers.

The High Court further told the SEC to act as an ‘independent body’. 

Both the West Bengal government and the SEC were directed to file their replies in the matter by the next date of hearing, which was fixed at June 12.

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