West Bengal panchayat elections: Calcutta High Court asks SEC to respond to allegation that 20,585 nominations were withdrawn abruptly

An allegation has been made that while 40,000 nominations were filed by TMC candidates within the space of an hour, 20,585 other nominations were withdrawn over three days' time.
Calcutta High Court
Calcutta High Court

The Calcutta High Court on Friday sought the response of the State Election Commission (SEC) to an allegation that 20,585 nominations by candidates who had sought to contest the upcoming West Bengal panchayat elections, were withdrawn abruptly over three days [Suvendhu Adhikari and anr v. Rajiv Sinha, State Election Commissioner]

The bench comprising Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam and Justice Uday Kumar was hearing a contempt application filed by leader of opposition and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Suvendhu Adhikari alleging willful delay on the SEC’s part in complying with various directions earlier issued by the High Court to ensure free and fair elections.

“Learned advocate appearing for the applicant submitted that an anomolous situation has arisen wherein large number of withdrawl of nominations have taken place and the astronomical figure is 20,585. The State Election Commission while filing their affidavit shall also address this aspect of the matter as in several cases, this has been raised by various petitions,” stated the Court's order passed on Friday.

The applicant’s counsel contended that while such huge number of withdrawals were taking place, around 40,000 nominations were submitted by candidates from the ruling dispensation (Trinamool Congress Party) within the space of 1 hour.

The applicant also sought to renew a prayer to appoint an independent observer, which could be a retired High Court judge, to ensure the peaceful and fair conduct of the polls.

The Court, however, opined that it would be able to decide on this aspect only after the SEC files an affidavit.

No wilful disobedience of Court orders: SEC tells Court

The SEC today maintained that there has been no wilful delay on its part to comply the Court’s earlier directions to requisition the deployment of central paramilitary forces. The Court was informed that the Central government has already sanctioned the deployment of 315 companies of central forces, which would be in addition to the 22 companies of such personnel already engaged.

A requisition has also been sent for the deployment of 485 more companies, the Court was told,

This would bring the total number requisitioned to 800 companies, in addition to the 22 earlier engaged. This would also mean that the number of such personnel engaged is now higher than the numbers deployed during the 2013 panchayat polls, as directed by the High Court on June 21.

The SEC added that it had immediately carried out these measures after the Supreme Court dismissed its appeal against the High Court’s directions on June 20. Hence, the SEC’s counsel submitted that there was no delay on the SEC’s part in implementing the Court’s directions.

The High Court was also told that 273 officers of the West Bengal services and 22 Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officers have been engaged as observers.

The Court directed the SEC to file an affidavit detailing these submissions, so that the Court can discern whether there was any wilful disobedience by the SEC or any attempt to make the Court’s earlier directions unworkable.

After hearing brief submissions in a related contempt plea, the Court also ordered the SEC to file, on affidavit, whether sufficient number of cameras have been requisitioned to videograph the polling process in election booths, as earlier directed.

The SEC’s affidavit has to be filed by June 27 and the matter is slated to be heard next on June 28.

[Read Order]

Suvendu Adhikari and anr. v Rajiv Sinha.pdf

[Read live coverage of the hearing below]

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