The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear a plea byleaders against the Calcutta High Court for directing the State Election Commissioner to examine the ground situation in each of the 108 West Bengal municipalities going to polls on February 27, and take a decision on deployment of central paramilitary forces.
A bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices A S Bopanna and Hema kohli was told by senior advocate P S Patwalia, appearing for BJP leaders Mousumi Roy and Pratap Banerjee, that the high court has put the ball in State Election Commission’s (SEC) court.
CJI Ramana said, “Problem is virtually, we are now addressing the issue of governance. This is for the Election Commission to decide.”
Patwalia, who mentioned the matter before the bench for urgent hearing, submitted that in another matter related to Tripura municipal elections, this court has passed orders related to deployment of central forces. The bench then agreed to hear the matter on February 25.
The Calcutta High Court said on Wednesday that if the commissioner decides against deploying paramilitary forces, then he will be personally liable to ensure that violence-free and fair elections take place.
Directing the commissioner of the SEC to collect information on conditions prevailing in municipalities where polls are scheduled, the high court had asked him to hold a joint meeting with the home secretary and the DGP within 24 hours.
The court had asked the commissioner to take a decision in writing “by mentioning the relevant circumstances in support of his decision to deploy/not to deploy the paramilitary forces,” in each of the 108 municipalities.
Praying for direction to the SEC to deploy paramilitary forces for the February 27 polls, the petitioners before the high court had alleged that a state of terror is prevailing and in almost 10 per cent of the municipalities going for polls, ruling Trinamool Congress candidates have won uncontested as nominations were not allowed to be filed by other contestants.
Opposing the plea, the SEC counsel had submitted before the court that its earlier direction of February 10 was complied with and assessment of ground situation to deploy paramilitary forces for the Bidhannagar elections, as had been prayed for by the petitioner, was done and no need for the same was found.
He had claimed that only stray incidents of violence had taken place during elections to four municipal corporations earlier this month and had also denied allegations of candidates being illegally prevented from filing nomination forms.
The petitioners had also claimed that the SEC was acting in a partisan manner and that despite announcement of the poll dates, acting against the Model Code of Conduct, the state government was undertaking new schemes to woo voters.
The high court had also asked the SEC to appoint observers for the municipal elections. “Having regard to the nature of allegations which have been made in this petition, we are of the opinion that the Election Commission should appoint impartial officers of IAS cadre as observers,” it had directed.
The court had further directed the SEC to take steps to install CCTV cameras at conspicuous spots in all the main and ancillary booths, and preserve the footage. Mauve paper seals should be used in all the ballot units, it said.