Directs Centre to provide additional forces

The Supreme Court on Friday rescheduled the panchayat elections in West Bengal which was to be held from July 2, to a five-phase exercise from July 11 and directed the Centre to deploy additional security forces for conducting the elections.

A vacation Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Ranjan Gogoi passed this order on a special leave petition filed by the State Election Commission, which apprehended that the Calcutta High Court might not be able to take a final decision with regard to deployment of security forces.

The Bench, with the consent of the State government and the State Election Commission, directed the Commission to hold the polls in five phases on July 11 (Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore); 15 (East Midnapore, Hooghly and Burdwan); 19 (Howrah, South and North 24 Parganas) 22 (Nadia, Murshidabad, Malda and Birbhum) and 25 (Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Uttar Dinajpur and Dakshin Dinajpur).

Appearing for the State Election Commission, senior counsel Samaradityapal and counsel Meenakshi Arora submitted that on average, 50,000 security personnel were required for the first two phases, 60,000 for the next two phases and 37,000 for the last phase. Senior counsel Gopal Subramanian, appearing for the State government, submitted that the State would provide 35,000 personnel.

Taking into consideration their submissions, the Bench directed the Centre to provide additional forces of 15,000 each for the first two phases and 25,000 for the next two phases and 2,000 for the last phase.

The Bench said: “All other consequential notifications are to be done by the authorities concerned in terms of this order. Nominations, scrutiny, printing of ballot papers and declaration of results [in certain uncontested seats] may not be re-opened.”

In its SLP, the Commission said that it might not be possible to hold the polls if adequate security forces were not provided. “These elections are held on political party basis. Moreover, being grassroots 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.”

The Commission said it has received “complaints from many political parties as well as intending candidates regarding large-scale intimidation of intending candidates and supporters to force them not to file nominations… All these have led to 6,274 uncontested seats.”