Bengal likely to club and further push back all pending civic polls

THIS IS IN DEVIATION OF THE 31 JANUARY DEADLINE THAT BOTH THE GOVT AND THE POLL PANEL HAD AGREED FOR HOLDING POLLS TO 10 CIVIC BODIES

By bappaditya paul
IN A FRESH DELAYING TACTIC, the West Bengal government is likely to push for clubbing all pending civic elections in the state with those of another 81 civic bodies whose term is scheduled to end in June 2015.  Mamata Banerjee This is in deviation of the 31 January deadline that both the state government and the State Election Commission had agreed upon before Calcutta High Court in September for holding elections to 10 civic bodies whose term had expired in July this year.

According to State Election Commissioner Mr Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya, the government has not till date responded to the repeated reminders sent by the poll panel for fixing a poll date. The government must notify the election date latest by 15 December if the poll is to be conducted by 31 January. The poll panel plans to send another reminder to the state government later this week.

West Bengal State Election Commission office
West Bengal State Election Commission office

Sources both in the poll panel and the state municipal affairs department said that the government, instead, was planning to further push back the matter to April-May when elections to another 81 civic bodies, including the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, are due.

“The excuse is that the model code of conduct that comes into force during an election, imposes restrictions on development works in the constituency concerned. Hence, what we are hearing is that, the government is planning to club all pending civic poll to April-May so that there is no repeated disruptions to development work,” said a highly placed source in the state poll panel.

SEC’s counsel, Mr L C Behani, however, has advised the poll panel against moving the High Court for any extension of the 31 January deadline. “We are prepared to conduct the poll by the agreed date. In case of any deviation, it is the state government which shall move the HC, our counsel has advised,” said a senior SEC official.

Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay
Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay

Asked about the pending poll date, municipal affairs secretary Mr B P Gopalika said that a decision on this was pending with the municipal affairs minister.

“We have put up the file before the minister and will respond to the election commission as soon as a decision is arrived at,” he said. When asked if the poll will be held by 31 January, Mr Gopalika said: “I will not speculate anything.”

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).

Ms Mira Pande
Ms Mira Pande

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. Peeved at the government’s delaying tactics, then State Election Commissioner Ms Mira Pande moved the High Court in June, seeking intervention.

The new poll commissioner Mr Upadhaya took a conciliatory approach and suggested holding elections to ten of the 17 civic bodies, leaving out the ones that the government plans to merge / upgrade into corporations.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 01 December 2014.)

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