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Bengal Panchayat poll: HC asks SEC to file affidavits, verdict today

Kolkata, April 19: The Calcutta High Court on Thursday asked the West Bengal State Election Commission to submit affidavits detailing the steps it had taken following the Supreme Court’s direction to allay apprehensions about the Panchayat elections,and extended its stay on the polling process till Friday afternoon. A single-judge bench of Justice Subrata Talukdar on Thursday completed hearing in the case and said the verdict would be given at 4.30 pm on Friday.
Justice Talukdar also asked the SEC Secretary Nilanjan Shandilya to submit affidavits regarding its issuance of the two notices on April 9 and Apil 10, first to extend the nomination time for the rural polls by a day and the second to cancel the extension. The SEC had previously said it withdrew the April 9 notification following a letter of legal advice by state Additional Chief Secretary Saurabh Kumar Das and ruling Trinamool Congress’s Vice President Kalyan Banerjee that the notification for extension was a violation of Panchayat Act’s section 46 (2).
Arguing their case, Banerjee said polling dates were chosen by the state government in consultation with the SEC, keeping in mind multiple factors including availability of schools and colleges, impending festivals and weather and claimed the more the election is postponed the more detrimental effect it would have on the state’s rural economy. He said with the polling process stalled, the state’s rural economy has been hard hit as all ongoing projects have been halted and no new projects or developmental programmes can be started before the election is over, due to the model code of conduct.
State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury, a proforma addition in the case, claimed the SEC has been unable to maintain the dignity of its responsibility and failed in its duty. He alleged that the SEC cancelled its notice to please the chief of the state ruling party and are now coming up with lame excuses to hide their mistakes. Terming the High Court as the last refuge for the opposition parties amid a politically adverse situation in connection with the rural polls, he appealed to the court to fix a guideline for the elections and supervise the entire polling process. The panchayat elections were originally scheduled for May 1, 3 and 5, with the counting of votes slated on May 8. (IANS)

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Ankur Kalita