Bengal poll panel says no to extending voting hours

A BJP banner for Kolkata civic polls on CR Avenue in Kolkata.
A BJP banner for Kolkata civic polls on CR Avenue in Kolkata.

By bappaditya paul

BENGAL’S STATE ELECTION COMMISSION (SEC) has ruled out the possibility of extending the voting hours for the forthcoming civic polls in the state as had been demanded by the ruling Trinamul Congress.

But the Bengal municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim said that the government would write to the poll panel afresh with the same recommendation.   

The SEC, in a letter to Bengal chief secretary Sanjay Mitra, has stated that going by Sections 8, 36 and 37 of the West Bengal Municipal Elections Act 1994, there was hardly any scope to modify the poll timings that was first notified by the government and was followed by a matching notification from the poll panel.

SEC sent the comminique on Sunday which being a holiday, the letter was delivered to the state secretariat Nabanna only on Monday. 

The notified timings for Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls on 18 April and the elections in another 91 civic bodies on 25 April is 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Trinamul had demanded that it be extended until 5 p.m. to allow people cast their votes at ease.

Bengal state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya
Bengal state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya

“We have told the government that there is no provision in law to modify a poll notification. And if we cancel the existing notifications to facilitate a change in poll timing, there will be legal ramifications on the election process that has so far been carried out on the basis of the notifications,” state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya said Monday evening.

“We have also apprised the government that during the 28 March all-party meet that we had convened, all the Opposition political parties had objected to the Trinamul proposal.”

The poll panel chief said they have communicated the decision to the state government because going by the WB Municipal Elections Act, it was the state that had first issued the poll notification mentioning in it the voting dates and timing. 

Responding to the development, Bengal municipal affairs minister Mr Hakim told reporters that the government would write to the SEC recommending a two-hour extension in the voting hours because the “number of voters have increased by many folds.”

His department has drafted the letter and was awaiting Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nod to send it to the poll panel, the minister said.

Miss Banerjee is on a tour of northern Bengal and is scheduled to return to Kolkata on 1 April.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 31 March 2015.)

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