SC sticks to its schedule,govt notifies polls

Ramzan reason: Court says understand Muslim sentiments,ticks off Mamata govt for dilly-dallying

Written by Express News Service | Kolkata/new Delhi | Published:July 3, 2013 3:13 am

With the Supreme Court Tuesday refusing to reschedule the panchayat elections given that it clashed with Ramzan,the state government reconciled itself with the verdict and issued the poll notification late in the evening.

Earlier,the apex court,during the proceedings,ticked off the state government for “dilly-dallying” over holding the elections.

Dismissing a review petition of the state government and applications filed by NGOs seeking rescheduling of polls on the contention that the dates coincide with the holy month of Muslims who comprise one-third of the state’s population,a Bench of Justices A K Patnaik and Ranjan Gogoi said it respected the sentiments of the community but it could not go beyond the constitutional mandate that obligated it to order polls at the earliest.

The Bench added it could not advance the polls as the Centre had said it cannot provide forces due to their deployment in various parts of the country,especially in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand for rescue operations.

“We also could not direct elections after August 9 because the mandate of Article 243-E of the Constitution is that the panchayat elections will have to be held before expiry of five years of previous bodies and in this case,the period was over in May-June,” said the Bench.

On June 28,the Bench had ordered a five-phase poll,fixing the dates as July 11,15,19,22 and 25.

On advancing the poll dates of July 22 and July 25,the state government counsel told the court that it could arrange the required forces but the Bench snubbed it. “We had asked you earlier and you said you cannot arrange the forces. If you wanted election on time,you could satisfy the High Court about providing adequate forces. However,all you did was dilly-dallying…,” it remarked.

When the counsel of NGO ‘Progressive Youth Foundation’ submitted that Muslims should be given due opportunity to participate in the democratic process,the Bench said: “We understand all this and also respect their sentiments but as judges of the Supreme Court,we have to go by the Constitutional provisions. We have to ensure it is held peacefully and also as per the Constitution. Should we violate the Constitution because of Ramzan period or can we allow elections without adequate forces? We cannot help it.”

Soon after the court’s decision,in Kolkata,Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee held several rounds of meetings with state Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee and other officials. Later in the evening,the government notified the poll in accordance with the schedule fixed by the apex court.

Panchayat secretary Sourav Das said,“The notification has been sent to the state election commission.”

The state government,for its part,sought to stress that the court’s decision did not water down its efforts to appease the minorities.

State Law Minister Chandrima Bhattacharya said: “It (the verdict) is in no way a setback for the state government. The state government had informed the court about the inconvenience that the brothers and sisters of the minority community would face. But the court has ruled that there was no provision to extend the term of the existing panchayat boards. Which is why the panchayat elections have to be conducted to abide by the constitutional provisions.”

The terms of several panchayat boards expired on June 28. According to the state panchayat department records,at least 1,000 panchayat bodies are defunct as of now and their financial powers have been handed over to block development officers. The government records say there are 3,249 gram panchayats in the state along with 329 panchayat samitis and 17 zilla parishads.

Mukherjee added,“We had always wanted to hold the panchayat elections. We only wanted that the month of Ramzan should be avoided. We have a large number of minority candidates — at least 45,000,which is half the total number of candidates.” The minister also said the terms of the rest of the panchayats will end soon.

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