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West Bengal | Two-year-old panchayat poll results in the dark

The law says panchayat results have to be notified through State Gazette.

The law says panchayat results have to be notified through State Gazette.  

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Bengal govt. yet to officially announce the winners of the panchayat elections

Nearly two years after panchayat elections in West Bengal, the government has not officially announced the names of the winners. The names have neither been updated in the State government’s website nor uploaded in the portal of the Ministry of Panchayat and Rural Development (P&RD) of the Union government.

Attempts to obtain the names of winners through RTI applications have also not yielded any results.

A senior State government official, however, promised to address the issue. Asked why the information is not available in the public domain, a senior official of the P&RD Ministry said, “The winners are already working in the respective panchayats, so there is nothing to hide.”

Polls were held to nearly 60,000 seats, including 50,000 gram panchayats in the three-tier panchayat system, in early 2018.

Sections 76 and 77 (Chapter X) of the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act, 2003 say the State’s P&RD Ministry should publish the panchayat results “in the Official Gazette…containing the names of the elected candidates.”

Earlier governments, including the first Trinamool regime, had published the results on time.

Sabir Ahamed, a researcher, has been trying to access the detailed results since August through the RTI Act. He had sought a “district-wise list of panchayat members, pradhans [chiefs], up-pradhans [deputy chiefs]”, which is “not available in the public domain.”

“The question is why one needs to file RTI applications to have results, when people voted to elect their panchayat members. It should be automatically in the public domain,” Mr. Ahamed said.

“Secondly, RTI replies never indicated how I may get the results in one place and rather asked me to find it from the districts,” said Mr. Ahamed who is conducting a study on the nature of village-level elections. While Section 4A of RTI Act says “every public authority shall maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed” for ready availability, the P&RD reply to Mr. Ahamed said the information is “not contained within this Department but scattered within all the districts” of Bengal. Mr Ahamed was advised to contact “State SPIO [Special Public Information Officer] and Deputy Director P & RD...of all districts.”

“Is it possible to travel to 60,000 seats?” asked a bemused Mr. Ahamed.

The researcher had moved the Appellate Authority of P&RD, arguing that his requests fall under the Section 4A of RTI Act and “putting onus of collecting information” on him is violation of the RTI Act. Despite the order of the Appellate Authority in September, he is yet to receive requested information. Mr. Ahamed is now considering “legal recourse.”

However, he agreed that the “issue should be looked into.”

An official said the Trinamool had won a third of the seats without a contest, as the opposition could not put up candidates due to violence and many had moved the courts to challenge the results. “Unless those cases are resolved, it is difficult to officially publish the names,” an official explained.

Other officials explained that the publication of names may “officially expose” the depth and scale of violence in panchayat polls which the government may not be keen to draw attention to before the forthcoming city civic polls.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 12:12:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/west-bengal-two-year-old-panchayat-poll-results-in-the-dark/article30233069.ece

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