West Bengal panchayat polls: Calcutta High Court pulls up EC; State says political parties should not chant religious slogans in secular country

In its order, the bench directed the West Bengal State Election Commission to immediately requisition paramilitary forces for all the districts in the State and implement this directive within 48 hours.
West Bengal Panchayat Polls
West Bengal Panchayat Polls

The Calcutta High Court on Thursday pulled up the West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) for dragging its feet in requisitioning paramilitary forces from the Central government for the upcoming Panchayat Polls in the State [Suvendu Adhikari vs State of West Bengal].

A division bench of Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam and Justice Uday Kumar took note of the fact that no appreciable steps have been taken ever since its June 13 order was passed and till date no effective steps have been taken to identify sensitive areas from law and order point of view.

"We are of the view that waiting any longer will cause more damage to the situation and will not aid in protecting the purity of the election process. In the result, we direct the SEC to requisition the deployment of Central Forces for all Districts in the State and this direction shall be complied within 48 hours," the bench said in its order, passed late evening.

During the hearing, earlier on Thursday afternoon the bench had remarked that prima facie, the SEC was trying to avoid implementing the Court's June 13 order to requisition paramilitary forces from the Central government to tackle poll violence.

"In your perception, the situation may not be that grave, but we are only concerned about the electorate and not the candidate. We thought SEC would be an independent body so we gave you some discretion. But prima facie it appears that you are trying to make our order unworkable, which we won't allow you to do," the Court said.

The Chief Justice also made it clear that the Court would not sit silent if the SEC was trying to avoid complying with earlier orders.

"There are two ways on how we understand the role of the SEC. We are not here to advise you (SEC) to accept our judgment as it is. If you are aggrieved you can take it to appeal. But if you are of the view that your action is to thwart or make the judgment unworkable we are not here to sit silent," the Chief Justice said.

The bench was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Suvendu Adhikari.

Adhikari had raised concern that, despite earlier orders, the SEC had refused to assess and declare sensitive areas for the polls where paramilitary forces could be deployed. He alleged that the SEC has also not requisitioned paramilitary forces. 

The Leader of Opposition (LoP) further contended that there have been incidents of violence in various districts. There has been a "rampage" in several areas, with the State Police doing nothing to protect candidates or the government employees on duty, the Court was told.

"Candidates are being attacked. Some were shot just outside the block officer's office. There is an insurmountable pressure on candidates to withdraw their nomination papers. Thus, central forces are needed," Adhikari's counsel argued. 

The SEC, however, refuted the allegation and said that it was still assessing the sensitivity of various areas and that it was bound to implement the orders of the High Court passed on June 13. 

Meanwhile, the State government, through Senior Advocate Kalyan Bandopadhyay, vehemently opposed the allegations made in the PIL. 

The senior advocate argued that the political parties like the BJP and the Congress, which are coming to the Court are themselves, breaching the law. Such political parties are trying to give a communal colour to the polls, he contended further.

"India is a secular country. Let the political parties stop chanting names of gods in their political rallies and campaigns," Bandopadhyay contended. 

However, the bench responded by telling him not to make such submissions. 

The Senior Advocate added that everything would going on smoothly as long as these political parties do not resort to dirty politics. 

"These petitioners and their parties are taking advantage of your (Chief Justice's) soft side and sympathy. Please do not pass any order or make any comment which can be advantageous for the campaigns of these political parties," he submitted. 

In his submissions, Bandopadhyay also pointed out that the petitioners were directly coming to the Court, crying foul on part of the State Police, instead of making or filing complaints before the State authorities. 

"A definite complaint has to be made out. They aren't making any complaints to us but are directly coming to the High Court. If we are not looking into their complaints, then this Court can pull us up. But they aren't complaining anything to us and are just complaining before this Court that police is doing nothing. We have made at least 58 arrests in various incidents. Yet they say, State Police isn't doing much," Bandopadhyay argued. 

The State government also blamed the Left political parties for "ruining the election culture" in the State. 

"In 2003, 70 persons were killed in Panchayat Elections. For six months, political parties boycotted assembly. That was during Left government.  Today they have become "Rishi Munis" (saints). They have ruined the culture of elections in the State of West Bengal and today they claim to be innocent persons and blame us," the Senior Advocate contended. 

He proceeded to highlight that the State government has already requisitioned extra police forces from Punjab, Jharkhand, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and three other States and that it does not deem it fit to requisition the Central forces as well. 

"All that your Lordships said in June 13 order was of deploying forces to instil confidence of the public. You never said CISF. Also, it is no one's case that CISF will help instil confidence. In fact, most people are scared of the CISF. We have made all the arrangements and everything is in place. If the SEC would need 1.50 lakh personnel, we will provide them but we won't need central forces," he argued. 

Questioning the maintainability of the PIL, Bandopadhyay said that petitioner Suvendu Adhikari is nothing but party of a "lobby" that keeps filing PILs before the High Court without producing any evidence or fact or proper pleadings. 

"They rely on what TV news debate shows tell them. If this court will consider their attractive statements, which they learnt from TV news shows, then we too will stop preparing for our cases late till 2 o'clock in the night and would only watch those debate shows and come to the court and argue my case," he told the Court. 

After having heard all the parties, the bench reserved the matter for orders. 

Advocates Soumya Majumder, Srijib Chakraborty, Lokenath Chatterjee, Kallol Mondal, Priyanka Tibrewal, Vikas Singh, Sayak Chakraborti, Anish Kumar Mukherjee, Suryaneel Das, Anindya Sundar Das, Chiranjit Pal, Arup Kumar Dasgupta, Chittaranjan Panda, Harishankar Chattopadhyay, Sourav Mukherjee, Partha Chakraborty, SC Prasad, P Saha, Hasi Saha and Sukanta Ghosh appeared for the Petitioner.

Senior Advocates Jayanta Mitra and Kishore Datta along with advocates Sonal Sinha and Sanjukta Samanta represented the SEC.

Senior Advocate Kalyan Bandopadhyay assisted by Government Pleader Anirban Ray along with advocates Sirsanya Bandopadhyay and Arka Kumar Nag represented the State.

[Read Order]

Sunit Sarkar vs Commissioner, West Bengal State Election Commission.pdf
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