Panchayat elections in West Bengal will be conducted in three phases in May, West Bengal State Election Commission announced on Saturday. While polling will take place on May 1, 3 and 5, the counting of votes has been scheduled for May 8, the poll panel added.
“The Panchayat polls would be held in three phases on May 1, 3 and 5. The counting would be take place on May 8,” State Election Commissioner AK Singh said, adding that a total of 58, 467 polling stations will be set up in 20 districts for the over 5.08 crore voters.
Singh also said that the notice inviting nominations for the panchayat elections would be issued from April 2 while the last date of submitting the nominations would be April 9. He, however, refused to comment on the opposition parties’ demand for deployment of paramilitary forces during the elections.
On Friday, the commission held an all-party meeting in which political leaders demanded deployment of paramilitary force, with the Left Front urging the poll panel not to issue the poll notification before April 11, when the higher secondary examinations end. “The state government cannot provide security to Ram Navami processions, how will it provide security during panchayat polls? Therefore, there is a need to deploy central force to conduct rural polls. On the other hand, if the state government wants to hold the polls in the first week of May, then the poll notification must be issued at least 35 to 45 days prior to polling dates. As the higher secondary examinations are going on right now, we will ask the State Election Commission to issue notification after April 11 when the examination ends. But we are of the view that the State Election Commission is not prepared to conduct panchayat polls in May,” Left Front Legislature Party leader and CPM MLA Sujan Chakraborty, who attended the all-party meeting, had said.
The BJP, on the other hand, threatened to move high court if panchayat polls are held in May. West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “Recently, while addressing an administrative meeting, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that panchayat polls will be held in either June or July. Now they are saying polls will be held in the first week of May. If that is the case then poll notification will have to be issued right now. But now higher secondary examination is going on and there is a restriction on using microphones. As a result, we cannot start our poll campaigning before April 11. If polls are held in May then we will move the high court to protest against the decision.”
There were unconfirmed reports that the state government wanted to conclude by May 16, before the start of the month of Ramzan. It has also allegedly told the State Election Commission that central forces would not be required to conduct rural polls and each polling station will be equipped with armed state police personnel. The state government has allegedly also decided to deploy 56,000 state police personnel on poll duty.