EC says polls not possible unless adequate forces provided

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice to the West Bengal government and the Centre asking them to apprise the court on Friday of how they would meet the requirement of security forces for conducting the panchayat elections in the State.

A vacation Bench of Justices A. K. Patnaik and Ranjan Gogoi issued notice on a special leave petition filed by the State Election Commission seeking to suspend the panchayat polls scheduled to commence on July 2 until the State government provided adequate security forces.

In a brief order, the Bench said: “List this matter on June 28 when the West Bengal government and the Centre through Ministry of Home Affairs will apprise this court as to how they propose to meet the requirements of forces mentioned in the order of May 14 of the High Court as well as the communication of the Election Commission of May 14 and June 22.”

Appearing for the Commission, counsel Meenakshi Arora told the Bench that though the Commission wanted to hold the elections, it was not possible if the required security forces were not provided. She wanted the elections to be put off if adequate forces were not provided. The Commission needed 2,41,760 security personnel, of which 1,45,000 would be armed but the State government and the Centre were unable to provide the required number.

Senior counsel Amarendra Saran, appearing for the government, submitted that the State wanted the elections to be held at any cost. He said the High Court was seized of the matter and could continue with the hearing. Mr. Saran said the Commission was not interested in holding the polls.

The Bench brushed aside the objections and said: “If you want elections, allow us to hear the case.”

In its SLP, the Commission said that for the first phase of polls on July 2, the security forces available for poll duty was 55,588 against the required number of 1, 49,572 and the government had not informed the Commission as to how this shortfall would be met. It said: “These elections are held on political party basis. Moreover, being grass-root level elections, these generate more violence and conflict because local issues are involved. As a result, the panchayat elections are more prone to violence than Assembly or parliamentary elections.”