The panchayat elections have been declared in West Bengal and will take place in a single phase on July 8. The process of filing nominations began on Friday. The BJP said with this amount of police force, the elections will be one-sided.
Opposition parties BJP and Congress moved the court and made the following demands: voting should be conducted with central security forces, the process of filing nominations should be online, and CCTV cameras should be installed in nomination as well as polling booths.
Here is what the court said in response to petitions made by concerned parties:
- The court has asked the state election commission (SEC) to discuss with the state government on the deployment of central forces
- The SEC should reassess the poll calendar (on whether the polls should be conducted in a single phase)
- The poll body should think of providing ample time for filing nominations
- Peaceful voting is the need of the hour
- All the processes need to be videographed
- On the matter of central forces, the SEC should send a reply by June 12.
“They have a right to go to the courts. We are preparing for the polls; Abhishek Banerjee is also on his yatra and we know that this time elections will be peaceful,” TMC MP Saugata Roy told News18.
“The BJP does not have candidates. Its sole agenda is to push the dates of the panchayat elections… How to hold back people’s money,” Banerjee alleged.
Experts said this time, the elections were a real challenge for both parties.
What is the TMC up against?
Uncontested seat and violence: In 2018, there were major allegation against the ruling party that it caused violence and did not allow the opposition to file nominations. The party won 95 percent zilla parishad, 90 percent panchayat samiti and 73 percent gram panchayat seats. Close to about 34 percent seats were uncontested and this led the BJP to claim all through 2018 that the TMC did not allow nominations to be filed by other parties.
Infighting: The TMC is known for infighting. Though this time Banerjee has travelled the entire state for two months, this time, candidates will be decided on the basis of voting. There is apprehension that those who will not get tickets might create issues.
What is the BJP facing?
The BJP most obvious challenge is if it can file nominations as it has always alleged otherwise. The second challenge for the saffron camp is to name candidates in over 70,000 booths. Is it possible to mobilise people and by June 16 and helping them file nominations?
What does the court order say?
The court was of the opinion that the time limit fixed in the notification is inadequate, which was published on Friday. “This, in our view, would appear to be hurrying up the process which needs to be reconsidered by the state election commission. Bearing this in mind, the state election commission can fix a reasonable time for the prospective candidates to file their nominations because it is insisted that nominations have to be filed in physical form,” the court observed.
The other concern expressed by the court was with regard to the safety of candidates who are seeking to file their nominations. The petitioners have sought for directions to file nominations before the district magistrate or the SEC. “It is not clear as to what is the apprehension in the minds of the prospective candidates or that of the petitioners. It is said that past instances do not give them confidence to file their nominations before the concerned block development officer of the panchayat. This issue can also be examined by the state election commission,” the court said.
It added: “So far as ensuring free and fair polls, it goes without saying that right from the stage of filing of nomination till the counting of votes and publishing results the entire process should be videographed and the said video footages have to be protected and preserved and the duty lies with the state election commission in this regard. With regard to the deployment of central forces, if in the opinion of the state election commission it would augur well to seek for deployment of central forces so that the state police force can work along with the central forces so as to preserve and maintain law and order situation, it is for the state election commission to take a decision in that regard.”
Other concerns expressed in the writ petitions will also be considered by the SEC, and its response should be filed in the form of a report before the court on June 12. The petitioners have also sought for appropriate directions not to deploy contractual employees and ‘badli’ workers as election officers or take part in the election process.
“…In this regard, we note that a writ petition has been filed as a public interest litigation wherein certain instructions given by the chief election commissioner have been referred to wherein there appears to be an embargo for deploying contractual staff in the election process. This aspect also shall be considered by the state election commission and be addressed in the report to be submitted on the next date,” the court stated.