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Kolkata Municipal Elections: Calcutta HC Directs State Election Commission To Preserve CCTV Footage, Diaries Of Election Officials, Voters' Registers Due To Alleged Violence

Aaratrika Bhaumik
24 Dec 2021 4:34 PM GMT
Kolkata Municipal Elections: Calcutta HC Directs State Election Commission To Preserve CCTV Footage, Diaries Of Election Officials, Voters Registers Due To Alleged Violence
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The Calcutta High Court vide order dated December 23, 2021, directed the State Election Commission to to preserve CCTV footage of all polling stations of Kolkata Municipal Corporation Elections held on December 19, 2021. The State Election Commission was also directed to preserve the diaries of the presiding officer and register containing the thumb impression/signature of voters of all...

The Calcutta High Court vide order dated December 23, 2021, directed the State Election Commission to to preserve CCTV footage of all polling stations of Kolkata Municipal Corporation Elections held on December 19,  2021. The State Election Commission was also directed to preserve the diaries of the presiding officer and register containing the thumb impression/signature of voters of all the polling booths in a sealed cover with immediate effect. The order was uploaded on the High Court's website on Friday. 

A Bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bhardwaj was adjudicating upon a batch of petitions which had alleged that deployment of central forces is required for the remaining municipal polls considering the large scale violence that took place during the Kolkata Municipal elections. On Thursday, senior advocate Jayanta Mitra appearing for the State Election Commission informed the Bench that the first phase of the remaining municipal polls would be held on January 22, 2022 and would include municipal bodies of Howrah, Chandannagar, Bidhannagar, Asansol and Siliguri. Furthermore, the Court was apprised that the second phase of municipal polls would take place on February 27, 2022 for the remaining 119 municipal bodies.

On the previous date of hearing, the Chief Justice had remarked, "We will not be closing the petition, we will upload the order in a day or two on the website". He further stated that the Bench will not be assembling for the issuance of the order due to the upcoming vacation. Accordingly, the matter has been listed for further hearing on January 6.

The Bench in its order on Friday observed that preservation of CCTV footage and diaries of election officers is necessary considering the fact that serious allegations have been made in respect of rigging of booths and violence against opposition candidates. 

"Considering the fact thatrigging of booths, false voting, voting in the name of dead persons, in the name of absent NRIs, driving out the polling agents of other parties from the polling booths, violence with the candidates and polling agents and improper functioning of the video cameras, to ascertain the compliance of the directions of this Court and to ensure fair elections in remaining Municipalities/Municipal Corporations, etc., we deem it proper to issue following directions", the Court observed. 

Directions Issued 

(i) The respondent State Election Commission is directed to preserve CCTV footage of all polling stations of Kolkata Municipal Corporation Elections held on 19th December, 2021.

(ii) The State Election Commission is also directed to preserve the diaries of the presiding officer and register containing the thumb impression/signature of voters of all the polling booths in a sealed cover with immediate effect.

(iii) The State Election Commission is directed to preserve the control unit of EVM machines in terms of Rules 61N of the Rules of 1995 without any delay.

(iv) State Election Commission is also directed to preserve voting record prepared from the EVM in terms of Rules 61N until further orders.

The Court further directed that for the forthcoming elections of the remaining Municipal Corporations/Municipal Councils, local bodies, in order to maintain transparency and fairness, the State Election Commission shall take steps to install CCTV cameras at conspicuous spots in all main and ancillary booths across the State and will preserve the CCTV footages so that in case of need it can be sent for audit.  

The Division Bench had earlier directed the West Bengal State Election Commission to install close circuit television (CCTV) cameras in all the main and auxiliary polling booths as also in strong room where EVMs will be kept during the upcoming Kolkata Municipal Corporation Election.

Background

Pursuant to the dismissal of the appeal filed by the BJP vide order December 17, 2021, the BJP had moved the Supreme Court on Saturday challenging the High Court's December 17 order rejecting their plea to deploy Central Forces for the conduct of free and fearless municipal elections scheduled on 19 December 2021. According to the petitioner counsel, the party had sought an urgent listing of the matter as the polls were scheduled to be held on Sunday. The petitioner had approached the Registrar Judicial and had sought urgent listing for today before the Judges at their residence.

The Supreme Court had earlier refused to entertain such a plea by the BJP seeking deployment of Central Forces for the Kolkata Municipal Elections, by asking the party to approach the Calcutta High Court for such a relief. "We cannot take decisions with respect to the requirement of Central force. High Court will be in a better position to know the situation", the bench comprising Justices L Nagesara Rao and BR Gavai of the Supreme Court had told Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, who was appearing for the BJP.

Earlier, the Bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bhardwaj on Wednesday had refused to stay the upcoming Kolkata Municipal Corporation Elections pursuant to the plea moved by BJP Sate vice-president Pratap Banerjee seeking direction to the West Bengal government and the State Election Commission (SEC) to hold municipal polls in the State in one phase. The Division Bench had also directed the State government and the State Election Commission to disclose to the Court the tentative time schedule and the minimum phases required for holding elections to the remaining municipal bodies.

The matter is slated to be heard next on January 6, 2022. 

Also Read: Kolkata Municipal Polls : BJP Seeks Preservation Of CCTV Visuals Of Alleged Violence; Calcutta HC Reserves Orders

Also Read: WB Municipal Polls : State Election Commission Submits Election Schedule To Calcutta High Court

Case Title: Bhartiya Janta Party v. State of West Bengal; Pratap Banerjee v. State of West Bengal and Ors and other connected matters 

Click Here To Read/Download Orders



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