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Supreme Court To Hear Tomorrow BJP's Plea To Deploy Central Forces For West Bengal Municipal Polls

Aaratrika Bhaumik
24 Feb 2022 6:11 AM GMT
Supreme Court To Hear Tomorrow BJPs Plea To Deploy Central Forces For West Bengal Municipal Polls
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The Supreme Court on Thursday has agreed to hear a petition filed by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) party leaders Mousumi Roy and Pratap Banerjee against the decision of the Calcutta High Court which had declined to issue directions for the deployment of central forces for the upcoming elections to to the remaining 108 municipalities of West Bengal which is scheduled to take place...

The Supreme Court on Thursday has agreed to hear a petition filed by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) party leaders Mousumi Roy and Pratap Banerjee against the decision of the Calcutta High Court which had declined to issue directions for the deployment of central forces for the upcoming elections to to the remaining 108 municipalities of West Bengal which is scheduled to take place on February 27

On Wednesday a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court had directed the State Election Commission (SEC) to assess the ground situation by collecting information in respect of the conditions prevailing in each of the Municipalities and hold a joint meeting with the Home Secretary of the State and the Director General and Inspector General of the Police within 24 hours in order to take a decision with respect to the deployment of central paramilitary forces. 

Pertinently, the High Court had underscored that in the event it is decided that central forces will not be deployed then the State Election Commissioner would be held personally liable to ensure that no violence takes place and that there is peaceful conduct of elections.

On Thursday, senior advocate Paramjit Patwalia appearing for BJP mentioned the appeal before a Bench comprising Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli. The senior counsel averred that the High Court has 'put the ball on the Election Commission' to decide as to whether deployment of central forces will be required.  He highlighted that the elections are scheduled on Sunday, February 27.

To this, CJI Ramana questioned if the Court should administer elections. In response, the senior counsel placed reliance on the Supreme Court judgment in All India Trinamool Congress v. State of Tripura to contend that the Apex Court in that case had passed orders for the deployment of central forces for the local body elections in Tripura. 

Accordingly, the Chief Justice agreed to list the appeal tomorrow i.e. on February 25.

It may be noted that the High Court in the impugned judgment had dealt with this contention and had subsequently dismissed the reliance placed by the petitioner on the Supreme Court judgment in All India Trinamool Congress v. State of Tripura. The High Court had stated that in that particular case after considering the ground situation, a decision had already been taken to deploy the paramilitary forces and subsequently the issue was only to provide additional companies of CRPF. However, in the instant case, the Election Commission is yet to take the decision to deploy the paramilitary forces after assessing the ground situation, the High Court had highlighted further.

Background 

The BJP had alleged before the High Court that large scale violence and rigging of votes took place during the recently conducted municipal elections in West Bengal and accordingly sought for deployment of central forces for the upcoming elections to the remaining 108 municipalities.

Elections to four municipal corporations – Siliguri, Bidhannagar, Asansol and Chandernagore took place on February 12. Polls to these four municipal corporations were postponed at the instructions of the High Court considering the spike in COVID-19 infections a couple of weeks ago. 

A Bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj of the Calcutta High Court on Wednesday had directed the State Election Commission to hold a joint meeting with the Home Secretary of the State, Inspector General of Police and other officials within 24 hours and decide as to whether deployment of central paramilitary forces will be required for the peaceful conduct of the upcoming elections to the 108 municipalities.

Opining that the State Election Commissioner will be personally liable if violence takes place, the High Court had further ruled,

"If the Commissioner, State Election Commission takes the decision not to deploy the paramilitary forces, then he will be personally liable to ensure no violence takes place and free, fair and fearless elections take place in the municipality where paramilitary forces are not"

 The High Court had also noted that although it has been alleged that BJP candidates have been prevented from filing their nomination papers however neither the names of those candidates have been disclosed nor have their supporting affidavits been filed. It had been further averred that  in respect of the already concluded elections to 4 municipalities, conflicting material has been placed on record about the alleged violence. 

The High Court had also observed that given the nature of allegations in the petition, the SEC should appoint impartial officers of the IAS cadre as observers.

The High Court had earlier directed the State Election Commission to hold a joint meeting with the Chief Secretary and Home Secretary of the State as well as the Director General and Inspector General of Police within 12 hours and decide as to whether deployment of central paramilitary forces will be required for the peaceful conduct of the recently concluded elections to the Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation.

Opining that the Commissioner of the State Election Commission will be held personally liable to ensure that no violence takes place, the Court had further directed, "In case, if the Commissioner, State Election Commission forms an opinion that deployment of the paramilitary forces during Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation election is not necessary, then he will be personally liable to ensure that no violence takes place and free, fearless and peaceful elections are held in Bidhannagar."

The State Election Commission had subsequently decided to not deploy central forces for the elections to the 4 municipal corporations.

It may be noted that the High Court in December 2021 had dismissed an appeal moved by the Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP) against a Single Bench order of the High Court wherein BJP's plea seeking deployment of Central Forces for the Kolkata Municipal Elections had been declined. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation Elections took place on December 19.

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.

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