In a big setback for Mamata Banerjee, the Supreme Court on Tuesday observed that there was malpractice in the recent panchayat elections in West Bengal and called it ‘shocking’. Referring to statistics on uncontested seats in various districts in the panchayat polls, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said a few hundred can be understood, but this is in thousand.
The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) had won 34 per cent of seats uncontested in the gram panchayat polls. As per the data released by the West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) 20,076 of the 58,692 seats were gone uncontested.
The TMC won 16,814 of the 48,650 Gram Panchayat seats while the party won 3,059 of 9,217 Panchayat Samity seats uncontested. Moreover, of the 825 Zilla Parishad seats, the Mamata Banerjee-led party was declared the winner in 203 seats. The SEC data revealed that most of the seats where TMC won without any contest are in the districts of Birbhum, Bankura, Murshidabad and South 24 Parganas.
The top court directed the state election commission to provide exact statistics about such contested posts by tomorrow. “We cannot remain oblivious of this fact that such a huge number of seats were uncontested in panchayat elections in the state… What is puzzling us is that of 48,000 gram panchayat seats, more than 16,000 go uncontested,” a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.
“What is bothering us is that out of total 48,650 panchayat seats, 16,000 posts remained uncontested,” the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, again said, adding that same was the situation with regard to elections for the posts of zilla parishads (district level) and panchayat samitis at the villages.
These figures showed the grass root-level democracy, as enshrined in the Constitution, was not working, the top court said.
The bench directed the West Bengal State Election Commission to file an affidavit by tomorrow providing exact statistics about the number of seats that went uncontested in the local bodies elections in the state.
Elections were held in phases for 48,650 posts in Gram Panchayats, 825 posts in Zilla Parishads and 9,217 posts in Panchayat Samitis and it has been alleged that around 34 per cent seats were uncontested.
The bench questioned the decisions of the state election body and said it had first extended the time limit for filing of nomination papers and took back the decision within a day.
“You (state election commission) are the guardian of law. It was vivid that so many seats were going uncontested,” it said, adding “if nobody is contesting, then there will be no litigation. The fact that there were litigations and it means that everyone was aware of the fact that something was missing”.
Senior advocate P S Patwalia, appearing for West Bengal unit of BJP, said violent incidents took place during the elections and people were not allowed to file their nomination papers. He also provided a district-wise break-up of the uncontested seats.
(With PTI inputs)