SC refuses to reschedule poll, Bengal announces dates

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to reschedule the West Bengal panchayat poll beginning July 11, and chided the Mamata Banerjee-led government for its “dilly-dallying” on the issue.

The polls have been scheduled to be held in five phases between July 11 and July 25. The state government wanted the court to reschedule it since it coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramzan, starting July 10. However, after the court order, it was issued a fresh notification, announcing poll dates.

A bench of Justices A K Patnaik and Ranjan Gogoi, however, said that though it respected the sentiments of the Muslim community, the court could not go beyond the Constitutional mandate, requiring panchayat polls to be held every five years.

The court also dismissed the plea by NGO Progressive Youth Foundation to reschedule the election.

The bench noted that the poll could not be advanced as the Central government had already expressed its inability to provide forces due to their deployment in various parts of the country.

“We also could not direct that the election be held after August 9 because the mandate of Article 243-E of the Constitution is that the panchayat elections will have to be held before expiry of five years of previous bodies, and in this case, the period was over in May-June.

Considering the aforesaid compulsions, we cannot modify the schedule of election as indicated in our order of June 28. The state government will issue necessary notifications consequent to our order,” the bench said.

The poll schedule had been declared earlier by the court on a plea by the West Bengal State Election Commission that the Calcutta High Court may not be able to take a timely final decision about deployment of forces by the state government and the Centre for the election.

After the order was issued, the state government complied with it on Tuesday, issuing fresh notification for the election.

According to the fresh notification, the panchayat poll will be held on July 11, 15, 19, 22
and 25.

A visibly disturbed Mamata told reporters at the state secretariat that she welcomed the apex court’s decision. “We wanted to say that all religions and creed are equal in our eyes. We have been able to make the Supreme Court take note of this,” she said.

Meanwhile, despite the state Congress also appealing to the apex court to reconsider its order, its president Pradip Bhattacharya held the Trinamool Congress government responsible for the plight of Muslims in the wake of the order.

CPM state secretary Biman Bose, however, said it has become apparent that the state government does not want to form elected bodies in rural areas to ensure Trinamool’s domination.

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