Mamata Banerjee’s government and West Bengal’s State Election Commissioner Meera Pandey are in battle again. Pandey, who has less than a month to go before retiring, has gone to court against Mamata’s government over a delay in notifying the elections to 17 municipal bodies. For the government, Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim has accused her of filing court cases just because she likes it and using the state’s funds to fight these.
Pandey filed a petition Tuesday urging the Calcutta High Court to direct the government to issue a notification for the elections. Commission officials say the notice has to be issued at least one month in advance. The municipalities — Malda, Islampur, Asansol, Dum Dum, South Dum Dum, Egra, Madhyamgram, Kulti, Dunkuni, Uluberia, Sainthia, Kaliagunj, Maheshtala, Sonarpur-Rajur, Haringhata, Gangarampur and Rajarhat — complete their terms in July.
“We wanted the elections held on June 28 and requested the state government to issue the notification. Under the Municipal Act, itis the government that does so. But they did not, so we filed a petition,” Pandey, who retires on July 21, told The Indian Express.
Hakim told reporters Wednesday: “Meera Pandey is like an old pishemoshai (uncle) of mine who had a habit of going to court on trival issues because he loved to do it. She is using taxpayers’ money to go against the government.”
It is the second time that Pandey has gone to court against the government. Ahead of the panchayat elections in July last year, she had gone first to the Calcutta High Court and then the Supreme Court for holding the elections in multiple phases and with central paramilitary forces deployed. The government was against both plans but Pandey had her way eventually, with the Supreme Court ordering a five-phase election with armed police manning all booths.
Hakim justified the delay in the notification for the municipal polls: “We have three reasons. Of the 17 municipalities, 10 will be converted into municipal corporations, and no elections can be held in the middle of the process, which has already begun with the cabinet having approved the proposal last month. Second, it is hot and humid now and our officials will suffer if they go out and hold elections, especially when we have just passed one election. Third, all developmental work had to be postponed because of the Lok Sabha elections and now if we have another set of elections, development will again come to a standstill. We want the elections in November-December, in the winter.”
The opposition, however, sees two other reasons behind the government’s reluctance. One is that Meera Pandey’s retirement will bring in a new state election commissioner, whom it expects to be on friendlier terms than it has been with Pandey. The other reason is that Mamata is wary of a saffron surge, says the BJP, having increased its vote share from seven per cent to 17.
“Thousands of people at Uluberia, Madhyamgram and Dum Dum have joined the BJP and we are sure we will do well in these areas. That is why the Trinamool Congress is scared,” Shamik Bhattacharya, BJP state secretary, told The Indian Express.
Another key municipality is Asansol, held by the Trinamool Congress but where the BJP has got an MP elected in Babul Supriyo.