‘Polls must be held before expiry of five-year period of previous panchayats’

The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned down pleas of the West Bengal government and NGOs to reschedule the five-phase panchayat elections in the State, scheduled to be held from July 11 to 25.

A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Ranjan Gogoi dismissed the applications, which sought rescheduling the elections in view of Ramzan fast that will be observed by Muslims from July 10 to August 9.

Polls are to be held at Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore on July 11; East Midnapore, Hooghly and Burdwan on July 15; Howrah, South and North 24 Parganas on July 19; Nadia, Murshidabad, Malda and Birbhum on July 22 and at Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Uttar Dinajpur and Dakshin Dinajpur on July 25.

The Bench rejected the petitions after hearing senior counsel Kalyan Banerjee for the State government, Additional Solicitor-General Rakesh Khanna for the Centre, senior counsel Fali Nariman for the State Election Commission, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi and senior counsel Krishnan Venugopal for various applicants.

It said by an order on June 28, elections were ordered to be held in five phases. The petitioners said that Ramzan period would fall between July 10 and August 9 and 1/3rd of the population in the State were Muslims who would observe Ramzan fast during this period. Hence elections should be rescheduled either before July 10 or after August 9.

The Bench said on June 28 when the order was passed, this request was considered by the court, but the Centre said deployment of security forces could not be done before July 11 on account of requirement of forces in various States, including Uttarakhand that was badly affected by floods.

The Bench said: “we did not also direct holding of elections after August 9 as the mandate of Article 243 (e) of the Constitution requires that panchayat elections will have to be held before the expiry of the five-year period of previous panchayats and the five-year period expired in May/June. In view of the compulsions we cannot modify the schedule of elections.”

The Bench directed the State government to issue the consequent poll notifications in terms of the order.