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SC refuses to rejig Bengal panchayat poll dates

New Delhi, July 2, 2013, (IANS):
File photo.
The Supreme Court Tuesday declined to modify its order for holding the West Bengal panchayat polls in five phases from July 11 and dismissed a batch of pleas seeking fresh dates in view of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The apex court bench of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the court could not reschedule the elections owing to constitutional mandate and unavailability of security forces before July 11.

Holding that it was sensitive to the rights of one-third of the state's Muslim population, the court said the mandate of the constitution could not be disregarded.

Dismissing the plea that holding the polls in the month of Ramadan could adversely affect the participation of Muslims, the court said it weighed all these options before passing its June 28 order for holding the five-phase polls from July 11.

The judges said on the request of the West Bengal government they considered the options of advancing or postponing the elections.

The court asked the state government to issue notification on the elections in pursuance to its order.

"We could not direct the start of the elections before July 11, as central government said that it could spare security forces because of their current deployment in other parts of the country and in flood devastated Uttarakhand," the court said.

The judges said they "could not direct the holding of the elections after Aug 9" due to the mandate of constitutional provisions related with the tenure of panchayats.

"Should we violate and bypass the constitution?" Justice Patnaik asked senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for one of the petitioners, Progressive Youth Foundation.
Observing that the elections to panchayat in West Bengal should have been over long ago, the court asked: "should we violate the constitution because of Ramazan period or should we hold elections (before the commencement of Ramadan) without central forces?"

Rohtagi contended that just because the period for holding the panchayat elections was over, the rights of the one-third of the population could not be disregarded.

He said let there be no perception that no one was bothered about the one-third of the population.

Rohtagi's suggestion to hold two phases of panchayat elections in Muslim-dominated areas before July 11 ran into security hiccups.

Additional Solicitor General Rakesh Khanna told the court that security forces would reach West Bengal July 8, and would require two days to spread out within the state.

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