Amid ongoing violence during the filing of nomination papers for the July 8 panchayat elections in West Bengal, the Calcutta High Court has ordered the State Election Commission to deploy central paramilitary forces for ensuring free and fair polls.
The court, however, declined to extend the date for filing nomination papers ending on June 15.
Dealing with a batch of petitions by Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and BJP leader Shuvendu Adhikari, a bench of Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya refused quash the notification announced by the SEC last week.
"The discretion to extend the time for completion of election lies entirely upon the Commission and this Court leaves such matter to be decided by the Commission in accordance with law and also taking note of the submission of the Commissioner that the date can be postpone by one day without disturbing the schedule notified," the bench said.
It also said the plea for permitting the filing of nomination before the district magistrate concerned or the state election commission was not feasible, as the statute allowed for submitting papers before the Block Development Officer and Sub Divisional Officer (SDO).
"The direction in derogation of the scheme of the Act cannot be issued and if done it may tantamount to interdicting the election process. Therefore the prayer sought for by the petitioners to permit filing of nomination before the District Magistrate of the district concerned or the State Election Commission is not feasible of consideration," it said.
The court also declined to consider a plea for appointment of a retired judge as observer to the polls, saying the appointment of senior officers of the West Bengal Civil Services (Executives) and IAS cadres is in consonance with the law and it would be sufficient safeguard to achieve the object for having free and fair elections maintaining its purity.
It also refused to consider a plea for filing the nomination papers in electronic form in view of the Supreme Court's order in the case of West Bengal State Election Commission and others vs Communist Party of India (Marxist) and others (2018).
With regard to deployment of central forces, the bench said, "We are of the view that the State Election Commission should and shall requisition the deployment of central forces to work in tandem with the police force of the State of West Bengal to ensure free and fair elections."
It noted that there is inadequate police force for being deployed throughout the state so as to cover all polling stations especially when the number of seats for which elections are to be held are more than 75000.
It asked the SEC to send requisitions for the deployment of the central security forces in areas that it considers to be sensitive and where there is inadequacy of the state police force. The court said the expenses for the deployment will be borne by the Centre.
The bench also directed the State Election Commission to install CCTV cameras in all polling stations and only such of those polling stations where it is technically not feasible to install CCTV cameras, in those stations alone the entire process commencing from the filing of the nomination papers till the declaration of the result have to be videographed.
It also noted in 2018 panchayat election, large scale violence took place resulting in 13 deaths, bombs being hurled, ballot boxes being burned and all these occurred due to inadequate security arrangements.
In the general election 2019, 693 instances of political violence was reported and 11 deaths. Further it was stated that state witnessed huge violence during the assembly election 2021 including 15000 cases of post-poll violence and also cases of violence during and after the West Bengal Municipal Election 2022.