Calcutta High Court puts stay order on ongoing Panchayat elections

(PC- Livelaw)

In a massive blow to Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Calcutta High Court has put a stay on the ongoing Panchayat election process in West Bengal till further orders. Justice Subrata Talukdar has also asked the State Election Commission (SEC) to present before Monday a comprehensive report on the poll process. The SEC has been asked to present in detail the number of nominations filed and the percentage of nominations rejected, including the reasons for the same amongst other information.

This stay order by the Calcutta High Court came as a relief to the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). The BJP candidates & party workers had faced massive assaults all over the state ever since the start of the nomination process. Let alone not being able to campaign, BJP candidates were not even allowed to file in their nominations by the goons of the ruling TMC. Assaults inside government buildings done in the peak hours had become the norm in the state; the state police under the TMC had their hands tied.

With nobody willing to help, the BJP had approached the SEC in West Bengal asking them for help. The SEC upon hearing complaints of the opposition parties had earlier extended the limit to file nominations by one day, making Tuesday the 10th of April the last day for filing the nominations. But it withdrew the earlier order by issuing a fresh notification stating, “It appears that there was no specific direction by the Supreme Court of India for extension of the nomination date. Therefore on perusal of all the papers and considering all the points, the Commission hereby recalls the said order and therefore rescinds the (previous) order.” 

The SEC had received two letters from, one from the special secretary of the state government in West Bengal and another one from the TMC. The pressure was too much for the SEC which caved in easily and withdrew its earlier order.

Left with no other option in hand, the BJP had approached the Supreme Court asking them for help in ensuring the smooth and fair conduct of the election process. The Supreme Court directed the party to approach the Calcutta High Court, refusing to interfere with the polling process directly. The SC however had asked the West Bengal state election commission to “ensure fair and free” panchayat poll in the state and take appropriate steps to ease the angst of the BJP and other candidates of not being allowed to contest the elections.

The Calcutta High Court then stayed the panchayat election process. Expressing displeasure over the SEC’s decision, it also clarified that the SEC has the power related to holding the elections which can be corrected by the court of law in case of digression. It also asked the SEC to maintain a level playing field for all the parties involved in the election.

Justice Talukdar also expressed his displeasure at BJP leader Pratap Banerjee, who was present in Court for not disclosing the fact that a similar petition had been filed by the BJP in the Supreme Court simultaneously.  He fined the BJP Rs. 5 lakhs but did not take any further actions, “However, in view of the public interest involved, this court is not vacating its directions to the SEC,” the judge said.