How many armed personnel can you spare for West Bengal rural polls, court asks Centre

The Calcutta High Court has asked the Centre how many security personnel it could provide for West Bengal’s three-phase panchayat polls, which are scheduled to begin next week, after the Home Ministry had indicated it was “overstretched” due to anti-naxal and flood relief operations. The Centre is to revert to the court by Tuesday.

In an affidavit, the State Election Commission (WBSEC) has told the court that polls could not be held on the scheduled dates of July 2, 6 and 9 unless the required security cover was made available. The affidavit was submitted to a Division Bench of Chief Justice of Chief Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi. The WBSEC had, last week, asked the court to direct the State government to arrange for adequate security for the polls.

Counsel for the Ministry of Home Affairs told the Court on Monday that the State government’s proposal seeking the deployment of 300 companies of Central armed police forces for the polls had been turned down. He said the Ministry had informed the State earlier that central armed forces were generally not provided for conduct of local elections.

However, WBSEC counsel Samaraditya Pal cited a Home Ministry report stating that the Centre had earlier provided security personnel for the panchayat polls in Andhra Pradesh.

The court, maintaining that holding of rural polls was a constitutional obligation and must be done as per the schedule, asked the parties for their views on how the situation could be resolved

To this, the WBSEC counsel said: “We have no solution for it. In this situation where the State and Centre says that they could not provide forces. Any further rescheduling of polls must be done after the State assures us of adequate security forces”.

Mr. Pal alleged that the State, which had failed to ensure adequate security, had deliberately sought to prevent the rural polls from being held. “We have burnt our fingers, tried our level best, but since 2012, the result has been a magnificent zero.”