The panchayat polls in West Bengal will be held as per schedule on May 14, the State Election Commission (SEC) said on Thursday.
The announcement came after the Calcutta High Court left it to the government and the SEC to decide on security arrangements for the polls while hoping they would be free, fair and peaceful.
A division bench, comprising Chief Justice J Bhattacharya and Justice A Banerjee, did not specify any election date in its order after hearing state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury’s Public Interest Litigation.
The court had earlier said the date SEC had fixed for the polling — May 14 — could be regarded as tentative. It had said the division bench would take a call on the date after receiving reports on security arrangements for the polls.
The bench said the court was not in a position to assess security and that it was for the government and SEC to take a call on the date. The court observed that maintenance of law and order is a state subject and left it to the government to ensure the security requirements.
“Since the state election commissioner has expressed his satisfaction about the security arrangements… this court… declines to assess the adequacy of such security arrangements by reposing faith and trust in the high constitutional functionary of the state … We sincerely believe that the decision which was taken by the state government and was approved by the State Election Commission is free, fair and unbiased,” the bench said.
The bench warned that compensation would be recovered from the salaries of the responsible officers if the violence and loss of life or property is higher than the previous panchayat election.
Congress state chief Chowdhury said, “Now it is upto them (the state government and SEC) to honour the court order. If they fail to do so or violate the court order, we will again explore possibilities of moving the court.”
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee welcomed the high court order. “It has come in the people’s favour. It is good for the people. We always favour democracy and we want to hold elections. We also want that election should be held peacefully.”
Ruling Trinamool Congress’ secretary general Partha Chatterjee accused the CPM, Congress and BJP of trying to delay the elections by moving the court.
“But they have not succeeded. The people of the state who want to participate in the election are happy with the verdict,” Chatterjee said.
Officials said polling will held from 7 am to 5 pm on May 14. SEC sources said a post-poll scrutiny will be done on May 15 and re-polling will be held a day after if needed. The counting of votes will take place on May 17. The TMC has won 34 per cent of the seats uncontested.
The state government told the court that about 71,5000 state armed police personnel, including 500 inspectors, 10,000 sub-inspectors and assistant sub-inspectors besides 61,000 constables, will be on duty for the polling. About 80,000 civic volunteers with lathis would also be deployed.
An armed policeman would take care of each booth while a volunteer will oversee queue maintenance. Quick Response Teams, with one armed officer and a civic volunteer, will rush to tackle any untoward situations.