Bengal panchayat polls | SC to hear plea against Calcutta HC order directing deployment of Central forces tomorrow

The Calcutta High Court on June 15 had directed the SEC to requisition and deploy Central forces across West Bengal for the panchayat elections within 48 hours

Updated - June 19, 2023 01:02 pm IST

Published - June 19, 2023 11:51 am IST - New Delhi

Police personnel stand guard at violence-hit areas ahead of the panchayat elections, in South 24 Parganas on June 17, 2023.

Police personnel stand guard at violence-hit areas ahead of the panchayat elections, in South 24 Parganas on June 17, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on June 19 agreed to urgently hear petitions filed by the West Bengal Government and the State Election Commission against a Calcutta High Court order on June 15 to deploy Central security forces within 48 hours ahead of the panchayat elections in the State.

There are around 63,229 gram panchayat seats, 9,730 panchayat samiti constituencies, and 928 zilla parishad constituencies. Further, there are 61,636 polling booths and 44,382 polling premises in West Bengal.

Also Read | Violence intensifies during filing of papers for Bengal panchayat polls

A Vacation Bench of Justices Surya Kant and M.M. Sundresh, on a mention made by senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, for the State Election Commission, and advocate Sunil Fernandes, for the West Bengal Government, agreed to hear both their appeals on June 20.

Ms. Arora said it was up to the State Election Commission to make the threat assessment, booth-wise. She said the High Court had erroneously intervened and passed a blanket order to the State Election Commission (SEC) to “requisition the deployment of central forces for all districts in the State of West Bengal”.

Ms. Arora argued that the High Court had no jurisdiction to give the SEC a two-day deadline to comply with its June 15 order.

“There was an interim order passed by the High Court on June 13. On June 15, the High Court reiterated this order… There was no opportunity for us to even put up an affidavit… Please take it up tomorrow,” Ms. Arora submitted.

The Mamata Banerjee Government said the High Court order had come on the basis of a “politically motivated” petition filed by Suvendu Adhikari, the Leader of Opposition in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The State said that though Mr. Adhikari had urged the High Court to direct the SEC to file a report marking the areas which were considered “sensitive”, the High Court had not bothered to seek a report before going ahead with its order to deploy Central forces in the State.

Mr. Adhikari’s lawyer interjected in the mentioning to say the State had witnessed poll violence in the past.

The High Court had passed its order on June 15 on the basis that “there was a slackness on the part of the administration in promptly reporting the identification of sensitive areas, although the District Magistrates and Superintendent of Police had initiated the process of identification of sensitive areas from the law-and-order point of view on June 9, 2023, no decision was taken in this regard till June 15”.

However, Mr. Fernandes, for West Bengal, countered in the apex court that the State has already requisitioned police forces from the States of Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar, Punjab and Tamil Nadu as additional forces for the panchayat elections.

“The petitioner [State] has 63,000 police forces at the disposal of the SEC for holding free and fair elections. Further around 5,000 forces will be made available by the departments of West Bengal. Additionally, for effective assistance to the SEC, additional police forces have also been requisitioned from the States of Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar, Punjab and Tamil Nadu,” West Bengal submitted in its petition.

The State has challenged the High Court’s reasoning that requisition of police forces from neighbouring States would not deter violence, and the “assistance of Central forces is vitally required” and their “distinct methodology” to control violence has been quite effective in the past.

But the State recalled in its petition how “during the last Assembly elections at Sitalkuchi, CISF personnel opened fire on voters standing in a queue to cast their votes, thereby resulting in the death of four persons and injuring 11 others”.

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