Calcutta High Court challenges State Election Commission, demands more forces in West Bengal

west bengal panchayat elections
Representative photo

The Calcutta High Court, in a significant development, has asked the State Election Commission (SEC) to increase the number of central paramilitary personnel to be deployed to oversee the upcoming West Bengal Panchayat elections. The court made its judgement after determining that the previously proposed number of about 1,700 personnel was severely inadequate for the task at hand.

The panel, which included Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam and Justice Uday Kumar, also expressed its dissatisfaction with the SEC, proposing that the election commissioner resign if unable to comply with the court’s orders. The court emphasised that the SEC appeared to have purposefully ignored previous court rulings that had been upheld by the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Sivagnanam questioned the SEC’s failure to make independent decisions, emphasising the significance of an independent and neutral SEC. The court emphasised the importance of maintaining people’s trust in the system and the purpose of holding elections.

The court urged the SEC in its decision to ensure that the number of personnel deployed exceeds the 82,000 central forces deployed during the 2013 West Bengal Panchayat elections. The court considered the increase in the number of districts from 17 to 22, which implied an increase in the number of voters between 2013 and 2023.

The court expressed concerns over the timing of police troops from five other states, which the SEC had asked for peacekeeping duties. The soldiers were only supposed to arrive in West Bengal on July 6, giving them little time to prepare for their tasks ahead of the July 8 elections.

The court emphasised the importance of a thorough deployment strategy, stating that forces from other states should be present throughout the election process, not simply on election day.

The court has set a 24-hour deadline for the SEC to reassess the circumstances and offer an honest evaluation. It warned of the repercussions of any attempt to undermine or render the court’s directions.

The order was issued in response to a contempt plea filed by Suvendhu Adhikari, the Leader of the Opposition and a BJP leader. Adhikari claimed that the SEC was deceiving the court by failing to follow its previous orders. He also expressed alarm over the growing number of people killed in poll-related violence, despite the court’s directives.

The SEC’s counsel told the court that they would follow any further instructions if the current arrangements were considered inadequate.

Another contempt petition challenging the recording of the voting process, submitted by an Indian National Congress (INC) leader, is set to be heard next Friday.

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