Censuring the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government for its dilly-dallying over the panchayat polls,the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to modify the poll schedule fixed by it on a contention that it coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramzan,which is likely to begin on July 10.
A Bench of Justices A K Patnaik and Ranjan Gogoi said it respected the sentiments of the Muslim community but the court could not traverse beyond the Constitutional mandate,which obligated them to order panchayat elections as early as possible.
Dismissing a plea by NGO Progressive Youth Foundation,which was supported by the state government, to once again reschedule the panchayat polls in the wake of impending month of Ramzan,the Bench said it could not advance the polls because the central government had expressed its inability to provide forces due to their deployment in various parts of the country,especially in 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.
Considering the aforesaid compulsions,we cannot modify the schedule of elections as indicated in our order of June 28. The state government will issue necessary notifications consequent to our order, said the Bench.
On June 28,the Bench had ordered a five-phase poll starting July 11 and ending July 25. The court mandated schedule had come after the West Bengal State Election Commission moved the Supreme Court,fearing the Calcutta High Court may not be able to take a timely final decision about deployment of forces by the state government and the Centre for the elections.
During Tuesdays proceedings,NGOs counsel requested for re-scheduling the dates,claiming one-third of the population in the state were Muslims and they should be given due opportunity to participate in the democratic process. We understand all this and also respect their sentiments but as judges of the Supreme Court,we have to go by 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, said the Bench.
On the issue of advancing the poll dates of July 22 and 25,the state governments counsel told the court that it could arrange for the required forces but the Bench snubbed the argument.
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.