Controversy scales as WB govt declares rural poll dates

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Kolkata, March 23: The West Bengal government on Friday announced the two-phase panchayat elections on April 26 and 30. The decision is likely to scale up its confrontation with the state election commission which had insisted on a three-phase poll supervised by the central forces.

The commission, which is solely responsible for conducting the polls, has to either accept the government's decision or move the high court against the latter's decision. The constitution bench of the Supreme Court had ruled in 2006 that the state poll panel can appeal in a high court on such disputes.

According to one official, a similar confrontation took place between the Karnataka state election commission and the state government over the municipal polls and the matter had even reached the apex court. The court had ultimately backed the commission's decision.

However in the latest dispute in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress government's announcement made by panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee has put the poll panel in a fix for the former was well within its jurisdiction while making the annoucement.

The main point of dispute between the government and the panel is the interpretation of Section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act, 2003, which says that the state government must talk to the state poll commission before taking the final call on the polls. On this, the minister said that they have consulted the commission as per the norms.

Constitutional expert Somnath Chatterjee said the consultation should be construed as "concurrence", as defined by the apex court on judicial appointments.

Section 4 of the West Bengal State Election Commission Act, 1994, empowers the state election panel the sole responsibility to conduct the election. The commission has already turned down the state government's recommendation on the polls thrice.

Officials fear that if neither of the disputing sides soften their stand, the matter will go to the court and the election itself will become uncertain. If the deadlock extends beyond July 8, the panchayat bodies completing five-year term will be dissolved and the government will disburse rural funds through the block development office.

The government wants to hold the first phase of the election in 14 out of 17 districts on April 26 and the second phase in districts where the Congress is powerful, like North Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad.

The state Congress slammed the state government on the issue, saying it was politically motivated. PCC chief Pradip Bhattacharya said they will ask the state election commissioner to conduct three or four-phase polls.

Mukherjee said the state government was determined to conduct the polls peacefully with the help of armed forces. He said law and order is a state subject and the government sought peaceful elections. The chief secretary also met the district magistrates on Friday to take stock of the law and order situation.

Sources in the state election commission said the panel was consulting lawyers before taking a final stance.

OneIndia News

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