The Calcutta High Court on Thursday reserved judgment in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking deferment of four civic polls in Bidhannagar, Chandernagore, Asansol and Siliguri amid rising Covid-19 cases in West Bengal.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj heard arguments from the petitioner, the State Election Commission, and the state government, and reportedly expressed dissatisfaction over the response of the poll panel particularly when asked if it had the power to defer the elections.
Senior advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who appeared on behalf of the petitioner, requested the bench to pass orders to postpone the polls, contending that positive cases were increasing in the state despite measures to contain Covid-19. He also argued that opinions of medical experts were missing from the reports submitted before the bench by the state government and the State Election Commission.
Speaking to News18.com, Bhattacharya said: “I told the court that the State Election Commission has the power to function independently and also under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution, the court has the power to postpone any elections if the situation is ‘extraordinary’.”
After petitioner’s arguments, the state government informed the Bench that as per Section 5(1) of the West Bengal State Election Commission Act, 1994, the state government has no role in deferring elections once the dates are notified. The state government’s counsel also informed the court that majority of the people in the four areas where civic polls are due on January 22 are vaccinated.
The State Election Commission told the court that consultation with the state government is required to defer any election. “The poll body cannot take the decision alone,” it told the court.
Asked if the poll panel has the power to defer elections, the counsel for the State Election Commission told the court that it does not have the power to defer the elections once dates have been notified. “It can only defer if the state government declares an emergency situation,” it said.
After listening to the State Election Commission’s counsel, the bench said: “As per Article 243ZA, the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to the Municipalities shall be vested in the State Election Commission referred to in Article 243-K. Despite provisions in Article 243ZA, you are saying the State Election Commission cannot defer it?”
It then reserved the order and said it will be uploaded on the court’s website.