No NOTA for 3 Oct civic polls in Bengal but EVMs first time for rural elections

Featured Image: The official NOTA symbol designed by National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and released on 18 September 2015. Photo courtesy: Nizil Shah on wikipedia
Featured Image: The official NOTA symbol designed by National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and released on 18 September 2015. Photo courtesy: Nizil Shah on wikipedia

By bappaditya paul

Kolkata, 23 September: VOTERS in Bengal will once again miss out on the option to press the None of the Above (NOTA) button during the 3 October civic polls in three urban bodies and the Siliguri rural polls.

This is because Mamata Banerjee-led state government has not amended the related legislations to allow the state election commission (SEC) to introduce NOTA for local body polls. This is despite a brief session of the Bengal Assembly presently being underway since 18 September.

The SEC will however, for the first time, put to use electronic voting machines (EVM) for rural polls in the state during Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad elections and the panchayat by-polls elsewhere. Till now, the use of EVM was limited to Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.

“In response to our latest reminder, state panchayat department wrote to us about 20 days ago saying, the government was unable to amend the Panchayat Election Rules and hence NOTA option would not be available for the coming polls,” said Bengal state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay.

“We had sent a similar reminder to the municipal affairs department but are yet to get a reply.”

Upadhayay added that in response to a query, Election Commission of India has replied that it had introduced NOTA from the 2014 Lok Sabha polls following a Supreme Court order in 2013 and it did not require an amendment to Central election laws because of the SC ruling.

“But we cannot do so without the panchayat and municipal election rules being amended. Not only Bengal, several other states have failed to do this so far,” he said.

To bring in NOTA option, amendments are necessary to the West Bengal Municipalities (Conduct of Elections) Rules, 1995, and the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Rules, 2006.

Thus, the civic polls voters at Bidhannagar-Rajarhat, Bally, Asansol and the rural poll voters in Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad on 3 October will either have to choose a candidate or abstain from voting altogether.

Notwithstanding the upset over NOTA, SEC’s move to use EVMs for rural polls will be a big relief for voters in 520 booths in Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad elections and in another 1,111 booths for the panchayat by-polls elsewhere in the state. This will reducing the time taken in casting a vote and also expedite the vote counting scheduled for 7 October.

SEC has around 25,000 EVMs and a part of them will be used for the 3 October polls.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN, West Bengal, India. This article first appeared on on 23 September 2015.) 

Ladies Corner

Vidya Balan Collage

By bappaditya paul

MANY of you, who even have the remotest connection to Bengal and are active on social sharing media such as WhatsApp and Facebook, must have come across the image featured above, several times in the recent past.

This a collage of two different photographs of Bollywood actress Vidya Balan ~ the first one from a photo-shoot and the second one a still from her 2007 box office hit Bhool Bhulaiya.

While the image is going round in social media for fun, it aptly makes a pointed comment on the dire state of rail travel in passenger trains that connect Kolkata to the suburbs.

Scores of people travel every day in local trains over the Sealdah and Howrah rail divisions, to commute to office and work and then return home. But the dearth of sufficient number of trains, make them commute like hordes of lesser mortals packed in a box.

Over time, this has become a common scene on all trains plying to and from Kolkata, especially during the morning office hours and the evening home return hours. The scene in the trains on Sealdah-Bongaon, Sealdah-Dankuni, Sealdah-Barasat and Sealdah-Ranaghat is worst, to say the least.

Late running of trains, which has become a routine in the past few months, is only worsening the situation. Men literally struggle to get a toe hold on the trains; women find it no less than being molested when they travel in a general compartment.

In such a dismal state, the ladies special trains ~ Matribhoomi Local ~ introduced by Mamata Banerjee when she was railway minister, has been a relief of sort for thousands of women who need to travel daily for office and education.

Thus, it is no wonder that they reacted sharply by resorting to rail blockades at several stations in North 24-Parganas district when the railway threw open some compartments of ladies special trains for men. The decision has now been repealed with effect from 24 August on the face of the vehement opposition.

The opposition was such that violent retaliation by male commuters had failed to make the women backtrack, be it from their demand or from the rail tracks, quite literally. And mind you! This is without the presence of a political banner over their head, in a state where politics is a part of every aspect of life.

True, the women have reclaimed their exclusive claim to the ladies special trains, but male passengers are now accusing them of demanding too much of comfort in public transport.

But does the accusation hold merit?

To examine this, we need to have a relook at Eastern Railway’s recent move vis-à-vis allowing men to travel in ladies special trains.

Going by this, in case of 12-coach ladies special trains, 6 middle coaches were opened to men. This is in addition to the two coaches that have all through been reserved for vendors.

In case of 10-coach trains, four middle coaches were made available to male commuters, beside the two more coaches that were marked for vendors. Likewise, in case of 9-coach trains, men were allowed to board three middle coaches and here too, two coaches have all along been reserved for vendors.

Thus, the move effectively left women passengers with only four coaches reserved for them in the ladies special trains, thus screwing up the very purpose of running a ladies special. When the women realised that they would now have to jostle for a space in trains run in their name; they took to the tracks on justified grounds.

But here’s a counter to this explanation! Why it is then that there was no fuss from the women passengers when the railway had permitted men to travel in ladies special trains in the Sealdah south section and in Howrah division, almost a year ago?

There are two answers to this.

In Howrah division, the number of local trains is higher than Sealdah. Besides, passengers in Howrah have the additional option to travel in general compartments of long distance trains that halt at most stations along the Howrah chord and main line.

As to why the women commuters in Sealdah south section did not protest the dilution of ladies special trains, one would need to study the class character of the women in South 24-Parganas.

A major chunk of women passengers in Sealdah south, whose main arteries run across the South 24-Pargans district, belong to economically and educationally weaker strata of the society. Most of them travel to Kolkata to sell agriculture produce. While they are used to the hardships of life, lack of education limit their capacity to protest.

This is not to suggest that there are no educated and office-going women in South 24-Pargans or that they do not travel by trains. But the number is much less.

In comparison, North 24-Pargans district has many industrial belts dotting around the railway network and the women who take the trains from there are mostly educated, at least a vast majority of them are.

They travel to go to office ~ both public and private, or for education. These women are aware of their rights and have the voice to protest. This is exactly what they recently did to oppose the dilution of ladies special trains.

It is true that the men in Bengal travel in trains in more difficult situation than the women and to reduce their plight, there is a need to increase the number of trains and run them punctually.

Curtailing on the women’s public space, what Eastern Railway had tried to do, is certainly not the answer.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN, West Bengal, India. This article first appeared on on 22 August 2015) 

Mamata govt to have discretion over chit fund prosecution


Saradha Scam

By bappaditya paul 

The West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments (Amendment) Bill, known as the chit fund bill in popular parlance, and scheduled to be introduced in the state Assembly on 18 June, proposes to give the state government the discretion on whether to prosecute a fraudulent financial institution / person.

The principal legislation, mooted in the aftermath of Saradha scam and which the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been touting as the panacea to curb fraudulent financial institutions, was cleared by the state Assembly in 2013.

But its becoming a law has been hanging fire for want of a Presidential assent, which finally came this March on the condition that the clause in the legislation that empowered it to override all existing laws would have to be amended.

Chit fund bill

Conforming to the advice, the state government has drafted an amendment to Section 22 (1) and (2) making it clear that the legislation will be implemented “in addition to, and not in derogation of any other law for the time being in force.”

But in drafting the amended version of the legislation, the state government has inserted a sub-clause in Section 9 (2) that gives an officer appointed by the state government the discretion on whether to grant permission to law enforcing agencies to prosecute an accused individual or group.

The officer, in this case, is identified as the Competent Authority and will be designated as the Director of Economic Offices. The newly inserted sub-clause Section 9 (2) (aa) empowers him / her: “to grant or withhold previous sanction for prosecution of an offence under Section 3.”

Section 3 pertains to irregularities such as failing to re-pay deposits, bonus, profit etc that constitute an offence under the chit fund law.

Asked to comment on this, senior high court advocate Arunava Ghosh said over the phone this evening: “The sub-clause in effect means that the state government will have the discretion on whether to prosecute a fraudulent financial company or individual instead of the law enforcing agencies. Prima facie this appears to me to be against the spirit of the Constitution.”

Arunavo Ghosh
Arunavo Ghosh

Mr Ghosh added that the amended bill, if and when it is passed by the state Assembly, should again have to be sent to the President for assent.

More so because, the state government has not accepted a suggestion by the Centre’s Department of Financial Services pertaining to compounding of offences for prosecuting a fraudulent financial group or individual.

“The suggestion of inclusion of a provision for compounding of offences has however not been considered for amendment on the ground that it will severely dilute the stringent provision of the principal Act,” reads a point in the statement of objectives and reasons in the amended bill that was circulated among the MLAs earlier last week.

(This report first appeared in The Statesman, India on 15 June 2015.)

Assemblies struggle to meet minimum sittings prescription

West Bengal Assembly
West Bengal Assembly

By bappaditya paul  

WEST BENGAL ASSEMBLY, like several of its counterparts, is failing to hold the minimum number of sittings in a year as had been recommended by a parliamentary panel.

According to the West Bengal Assembly secretariat, the House sat for 48 days in 2014 as against the 70 days sitting recommended for state legislatures having more than 40 MLAs by the 16th All India Whips’ Conference. The Bengal Assembly has 294 MLAs.

The scene is not looking any better this year either: while the House

was in session for 11 days in February-March; in case of the on-going extended Budget Session that is scheduled to last until 18 June, the actual days of business would be 26 days.

Prior to this, in 2011 the West Bengal Assembly was in session for 42 days, in 2012 for 41 days and in 2013 the figure came down to 30 days. But it is not that the Bengal Assembly alone is lagging behind when it comes to holding number of sittings in accordance with the recommendation.


“Gujarat Assembly sat for 32 days in 2011, for 30 days in 2012 and 33 days in 2013. In case of Tamil Nadu Assembly it was 33, 42 and 47 days; while the Bihar Assembly was in session for 34, 38 and 39 days, respectively,” said the Bengal Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee.

The Trinamul Congress ruled Bengal could probably take solace in the fact that the Left ruled Tripura Assembly too is failing to hold sittings for 70 days a year.

“Tripura Assembly sat for 13 days each in 2011 and 2012, and for 11 days in 2013,” Mr Banerjee said. Tripura Assembly has 60 MLAs.

The Bengal Assembly Speaker said that they had been working on to adhere to the parliamentary panel’s recommendation and the 48 days session in 2014 as compared to the 30 days held in 2013 was a testimony to that end.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 09 June 2015.)

Bengal eyes to double foreign tourists this year


Bengal Tourism logo

By bappaditya paul

THE NUMBER OF FOREIGN TOURISTS visiting West Bengal is expected to touch 28 lakh (2.8 million) in the current fiscal year ending March 2016, state tourism minister Bratya Basu told the West Bengal Assembly last week.

This is notwithstanding the alleged gang-rape of a Japanese tourist at Digha and other places in the state by a group of touts-turned-guides in November 2014, which many feared would deter foreigners from visiting Bengal.

According to Mr Basu, 5.04 crore (50.04 million) tourists visited Bengal in 2014 as compared to 2.67 crore (20.67 million) in 2013. Apart from the overall growth, the number of foreign tourists also rose to 14 lakh (1.4 million) from 12.45 lakh (1.245 million) in 2013, registering a growth of 12.44 per cent.


“Our estimate is that the overall number of tourists, as well as the number of foreign tourists, will get doubled this fiscal year (2015-2016),” the minister said. “This has been possible because of the high budget allocation in the past four years that led to improvement in tourism infrastructure in the state. The focus now is on medical, film and religious tourism.”

To keep up with the growth pace, Bengal government will soon embark on a publicity drive emulating the Vibrant Gujarat campaign and the famed private advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather was being hired for this, he said.

In fact, of the Rs 317 crore (3,170 million) budget approved by the state legislature for tourism department this fiscal year, 70 crore (700 million) has alone been earmarked for publicity and promotion.

In 2011-12 the budget allocation for tourism was Rs 44 crore (440 million), in 2012-13 Rs 90 crore (900 million), in 2013-14 Rs 120 crore (1,200 million) and in 2014-15 it was Rs 223 crore (2,230 million).

Air India starts flight service to Bengal’s greenfield Andal airport

Bengal Youth Affairs Minister Aroop Biswas (in white panjabi) and Labour Minister Moloy Ghatak (in yellow panjabi) along with Bengali film actors in front of the inaugural flight at Kazi Narul Airport at Andal near Asansol on Monday.
Bengal Youth Affairs Minister Aroop Biswas (in white panjabi) and Labour Minister Moloy Ghatak (in yellow panjabi) along with Bengali film actors in front of the inaugural flight at Kazi Narul Islam Airport at Andal near Asansol on Monday.

AN AIR INDIA FLIGHT on Monday became the first passenger flight to touch down and take off from the Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport at Andal near Asansol, thus marking the begining of commercial flight services at the Bengal’s first-ever private greenfield airport.

Air India’s subsidiary Alliance Air operated a 48-seater ATR aircraft from Kolkata to the Andal airport with some ministers of the Bengal government and local cine stars onboard the inaugural flight. The same group was aboard the return flight from Andal.

Andal airport has been developed by Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Limited (BAPL) in collaboration with Singapore based Changi Airports International (CAI). The 650-acre airport is located about 170 km away from Kolkata by road.

Now on, Alliance Air will operate flights between Kolkata and Andal on all days a week barring Friday. Flight AI-9713 will leave Kolkata at 5.05 pm to reach Andal at 5.40 pm. The return flight AI-9714 will depart from Andal at 6.05 pm arriving in Kolkata at 6.40 pm. 

The flights will save passengers from Durgapur the time-consuming road journey to Kolkata and provide them onward air connectivity to Air India’s Delhi and Mumbai flights the same evening. BAPL said in a statement that for the onward connectivity, they would facilitate a through check-in. 

The flights will meet a long-standing need of the residents of Asansol-Durgapur belt boasting power-intensive industries such as mining, iron and steel, metalwork, engineering, petrochemicals, and telecommunications. 

Supreme Court to take call on polls to 7 Bengal civic bodies


Supreme Court of India.
Supreme Court of India.

By bappaditya paul

WEST BENGAL GOVERNMENT on Monday filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court seeking a stay on Calcutta High Court’s 16 April directive wherein it had ordered elections to seven civic bodies in the state by 16 June.

This after a division bench of Calcutta High Court headed by Chief Justice Manjula Chellur last Friday rejected a state government plea for more time to hold the polls.

According to Bengal municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim, the Apex Court has listed the SLP for hearing on Tuesday. Coinciding this, the Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) has convened a meeting at 3 pm tomorrow with the DMs, SPs and Police Commissioners of the civic poll-bound districts to discuss poll preparations.

The SLP was today filed on a day the Bengal poll commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya told an all-party meeting that the notification for elections to the seven civic bodies would be issued on 20 May and the elections would be held on 14 June in pursuance of the 16 June deadline fixed by the High Court.

The seven civic bodies in question are ~ Asansol, Raniganj, Jamuria, Kulti, Bally, Rajarhat-Gopalpur and Bidhannagar. Of them, while the elections to first five civic bodies are long overdue; in case of Rajarhat-Gopalpur and Bidhannagar the current boards would exhaust their term in June.

Going by Section 36 (3) of the West Bengal Municipal Elections Act of 1994 and Section 8 of the West Bengal State Election Commission Act of 1994, state government should first notify the poll date and this has to be followed with a matching notification from the SEC detailing the entire election schedule.

In this case, the SEC can straightway notify the poll schedule citing the High Court directive, an election expert said.

But whether the poll panel will finally issue a poll notification bypassing the state government would depend on the outcome of the Supreme Court proceedings on Tuesday.

Bengal PSC to lose Dental Services recruitment job


West Bengal Public Services Commission.
West Bengal Public Services Commission.

By bappaditya paul

WEST BENGAL GOVERNMENT is moving a new legislation in the state Assembly next week that will take away the task of conducting recruitments for Dental Services from the State Public Service Commission (PSC) and vest the same in the West Bengal Health Recruitment Board.   

Dental Services will be the latest sector to go out of the recruitment ambit of the PSC, which happens to be a Constitutional body. 

Last year, the Mamata Banerjee government had taken away the recruitment of Group C and D category staff in government departments from PSC and entrusted it to the newly constituted State Staff Selection Commission formed under a state law.   

Government sources maintain that one of the reasons behind such moves is the alleged delay in the recruitment process carried out by the PSC that leaves a substantial number of vacancies in various departments and sectors all the time.

The new legislation ~ The West Bengal State Dental Service (Amendment) Bill, 2015, ~ is listed to be tabled in the state Assembly on 19 May. It seeks to amend the West Bengal State Dental Service Act of 2009 that had vested all recruitments for the state’s Dental Services on the PSC. 

The Bill proposes to entrust the recruitments for both the West Bengal Dental Service and the West Bengal Dental Education Service to the West Bengal Health Recruitment Board established under a state law in 2012.

R Ahmed Dental College in Kolkata.
R Ahmed Dental College in Kolkata.

The Dental Education Service is for dental teachers who may or may not be into practice; Dental Service is for non-teaching practicing dentists.  

To meet the “huge shortage of (dental) faculty members”, the Bill also proposes to extend by another five years until 2019, the provision for recruiting basic level dental teachers from amongst the cadres of the Dental Service.

The Dental Service Act of 2009 had limited this provision to five years, which ended in August 2014.  

According to a health department insider, while around 16 posts of dental teachers are currently lying vacant throughout the state; the number of vacancy in practicing dentist posts is anything between 70-80. 

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India.  This report first appeared in The Statesman on 15 May 2015.)

PM take off for Bengal’s pvt greenfield airport

UP ON THE WIND: Prime Minister Narendra Modi who wound up a two-day visit of Bengal, took off for Delhi from the Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport at Andal near Asansol town on Sunday afternoon.
UP ON THE WIND: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday wound up his two-day visit to Bengal and took off for Delhi on a special Air Force plane from Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport at Andal near Asansol town in Burdwan district. Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport is a private greenfield airport developed in collaboration with the Changing Airport authorities of Singapore, and it will be thrown open to commercial passenger flight from 18 May. To begin with, Alliance Air, a subsidiary of national carrier Air India, will operate a daily service from and to Kolkata using a 42-seater ATR aircraft.

Kolkata reels under high temperature

HIGH AND DRY: Kolkata is reeling under high temperature for the past three days with maximum and minimum temperature hovering around 37 and 28 degree Celsius, both up by two notches than normal. Corresponding high humidity of around 85 per cent is making things all the more difficult. Weather office has ruled out rains in the next 48 hours, i.e. until 9 April. In photo, an office building on Rawdon Street in central Kolkata.



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