STATE GOVERNMENT AND STATE ELECTION COMMISSION HAD TOLD CALCUTTA HIGH COURT THAT POLL WOULD BE HELD BY 31 JANUARY
By bappaditya paul
West Bengal government is sitting over confirming a poll date for ten civic bodies in the state despite having agreed before the Calcutta High Court in September that the long pending elections would be held by 31 January 2015.
The State Election Commission (SEC) secretary Mr Osman Gani has since then written three letters to the municipal affairs department on the issue, the latest one sent last week, requesting it to confirm a poll date. But the state government has been unresponsive so far.
In its communiques, SEC has suggested that the election may be held on 18 January (Sunday), considering that in the first half of January people stay enmeshed in celebrations of new year, Makar*** Sankranti*** etc and in the later part the administration remains preoccupied with Republic Day celebrations. Though there is time for the government to formally announce a poll date, SEC needs to know about the date well in advance to make necessary preparations. The ten civic bodies, elections to which are to be held by 31 January are ~ Gangarampur (South Dinajpur), Kaliagunj (Malda), Uluberia (Howrah), Egra (East Midnapore), Islampur (North Dinajpur), Mal (Jalpaiguri), Dankuni (Hooghly), Sainthia (Birbhum), Rajpur-Sonarpur (South 24-Parganas) and Haringhata (Nadia).
They are among 17 civic bodies in the state whose terms ended in July this year but the Mamata Banerjee government declined to hold the election in time citing summer and monsoon woes. Then on 26 May, the state Cabinet announced the decision to merge / upgrade seven of these 17 civic bodies into municipal corporations.
Peeved at the government’s delaying tactics, then State Election Commissioner Ms Mira Pande moved to the Calcutta High Court in June, seeking intervention. But she could not push the litigation to a conclusion as her term ended on 21 July.
The new poll commissioner Mr Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya, the first ever West Bengal Civil Service officer to adorn the post, took a conciliatory approach and suggested holding elections to ten civic bodies leaving out the seven municipalities that were to be merged / upgraded into corporations. Subsequently, in consultation with the state government, SEC told the High Court on 10 September that polls to the ten civic bodies would be held by 31 January. The state government also told the Court that it was in agreement with SEC’s proposal.
“We are now waiting for the government to covey us the poll date. The statutory requirement is 35-40 day gap between the notification of election and the poll day,” the poll commissioner Mr Upadhaya said over the phone. He said that since 10 September, the Commission has not heard anything from the government on the issue.
This is even as the delay in election is causing immense difficulty, especially to the poor, in getting benefits that they are entitled to. The government has appointed administrators to run the civic bodies whose terms have expired but lack of coordination between government institutions has rendered the arrangement futile. “On 17 October, I went for treatment at the R Ahmed Dental College in Moulali and being a BPL category person, I approached the authorities there for waiver of treatment cost. I presented them a certificate issued by the Executive Officer of Rajpur-Sonarpur Municipality but they said I must bring a certificate issued by the chairperson,” said Mrs Alima Bibi. Rajpur-Sonarpur is one of the 17 civic bodies whose terms ended in July and hence it now neither has an elected body nor a chairperson.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This is an elaborate version of a news report that first appeared in The Statesman on 7 November 2014.)