The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday ordered that the West Bengal State Election Commission ( WBSEC) “should and shall requisition central forces to work in tandem with State police to ensure free and fair elections” to the panchayat in the State. The High Court, however, refused to make changes to the panchayat election schedule in the State announced by the WBSEC on June 8. Elections to about 63,239 seats at gram panchayat level, 9730 panchayat samiti seats and 928 zilla parishad seats are scheduled for July 8.
The High Court’s orders follow petitions filed by Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari and State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. The High Court also set aside the prayer that a retired High Court Judge should be appointed as observer to the polls. The WBSEC was also told not to deploy civic police volunteers.
While observing that the ultimate decision to deploy central forces will be made by the WBSEC a division bench of Chief Justice T. S. Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya said that central forces will be deployed in areas marked sensitive by the Commission in its report submitted to the High Court. In the report submitted to the Court on June 12, the WBSEC has marked seven of the 22 districts of the State as sensitive.
The division bench asked for an immediate requisitioning of central forces by the WBSEC, in the first instance for all the areas which have been declared sensitive. “Thereafter SEC( WBSEC) shall review the assessment plan submitted by the State and wherever there is inadequacy the SEC will requisition paramilitary force,” the Court said. It also directed that charges for the deployment of central forces shall be borne by the Centre and no part of it will be charged to the State government. The Court’s order led to frantic activity at the WBSEC and Home Secretary B.P. Gopalika met State Election Commissioner Rajiva Sinha later in the evening.
Opposition leader Suvendu Adhikari welcomed the order and said the Court clearly did not trust the State police. Senior Advocate and Trinamool Congress MP Kalyan Banerjee who represented the State government during the hearing of petitions said that many of the prayers made by Suvendu Adhikari in the petitions have been set aside by the Court.
Bhangar on the boil
During the day violence erupted at Bhangar in South 24 Parganas as nomination papers were filed for panchayat polls. Bombs were hurled not far from the office of the Block Development Officer (BDO) and supporters of Trinamool Congress and Indian Secular Front (ISF) sustained bullet injuries.
Several crude bombs were hurled in the Bijoyganj area of Bhangar not far from the BDO office where candidates had gathered to file nomination papers.
A few meters from the site three vehicles were attacked and crude bombs were found in the vehicles. Cars belonging to the family and associates of local Trinamool leader Arabul Islam were in the locality at this point.
Indian Secular Front ( ISF) MLA from Bhangar, Naushad Siddique, was also in Bhangar when widespread violence erupted. Local television channels aired videos from Bhangar showing groups of people with sticks and batons fleeing as bombs were hurled by unidentified miscreants.
Bhangar has been on the boil ever since the announcement of panchayat polls on June 8. Candidates of the Opposition particularly ISF have alleged threats from the ruling Trinamool Congress leaders.
Trinamool Congress general secretary Abhishek Banerjee was also in the district and participating in his party’s outreach event about 3 km from Bhangar. Over the past few days, violence has been reported from various districts of the state during the filing of nomination for panchayat polls. Candidates of Opposition parties have alleged that they have been assaulted.