Saturday, December 2, 2023

West Bengal Panchayat polls: SC upholds Calcutta HC order, says State requisitioned forces from outside after finding its police inadequate

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to interfere with the Calcutta High Court order that directed the West Bengal State Election Commission (WBSEC) to deploy Central forces for all districts in the state within 48 hours for the Panchayat polls, scheduled to be held on July 8.

Dismissing the petitions filed by the West Bengal government and WBSEC, the Vacation Bench of Justice B.V. Nagarathna and Justice Manoj Misra noted that the High Court had delivered the verdict, while keeping in view the fact that the State was conducting elections in a single day.

The only notion of the High Court judgment was to ensure conduct of a free and fair election in all booths of West Bengal, said the Apex Court.

It further observed that the State of West Bengal may have itself found its own police inadequate, that is why it requisitioned police forces from half a dozen other states. The High Court must have thought why requisition forces from half a dozen states and instead, directed for requisitioning of Central forces, noted the Vacation Bench.

During the course of hearing, Justice Nagarathna said that holding elections in the state could not be a ‘licence’ for violence, adding that polls could not be accompanied by violence. 

She noted that the High Court had earlier seen the instances of violence. If people were not able to file their nominations and if they were finished off while they were going to file the same, then where was the free and fair election, she asked.

The WBSEC had challenged two orders of the High Court, which were delivered on June 13 and 15.

On June 13, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Sivagnaman and Justice Uday Kumar of the Calcutta High Court had ordered the West Bengal SEC to send requisition of deployment for the Central forces for all areas or districts, which in its opinion, have been declared as sensitive. 

Noting that no appreciable steps were taken with regard to the June 13 order, the High Court on June 15 ordered the Commission to immediately requisition the deployment of Central forces within 48 hours of the judgement for all districts of West Bengal.

On submission of the Commission that it may take a couple of days to identify sensitive areas from the law and order point of view, the Bench noted that taking more time would only cause more damage and would not help the ‘purity’ of the election process.

The High Court had further ruled that the costs for the deployment would be borne by the Central government and no costs would be charged from the state of West Bengal.

It also directed the SEC to ask its election officers to display their identity cards and whenever called upon, prove their identity during the election process. 

The order was passed on two Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petitions filed by Suvendu Adhikari, Leader of Opposition in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, and Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.

The two politicians had sought deployment of Central forces and extension of deadline for filing nominations. The petitions challenged the WBSEC’s decision to notify the schedule of the three-tier (Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad) Panchayat elections.

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