Supreme Court asks WB election commission to ensure ‘free and fair’ Panchayat polls

The Supreme Court today asked the West Bengal state election commission to “ensure fair and free” panchayat poll in the state and take appropriate steps to allay the apprehensions of BJP or other intending candidates of not being allowed to contest the elections.

The top court, however, refused to interfere with the poll process, saying that with the April 2 notification of the State Election Commission, the poll election process has been set in motion.

“We hope and trust that in order to ensure fair and free election to the panchayats, the State Election Commission shall take appropriate steps to remove the apprehensions of the petitioner (BJP) and/or intending candidates and they may not be deprived of their chance to contest the panchayat elections,” a bench of Justices R K Agrawal and A M Sapre said.

The apex court said if any grievances are raised by any political party or any candidate in writing, then the State Election Commissioner (SEC) would ensure disposal of such grievance strictly in accordance with the law forthwith.

It said the SEC should consider the grievance once made by any party or candidate and pass appropriate orders keeping in view the nature of grievance made and the relevant factors concerning the poll and its process.

“We are, therefore, inclined to dispose of this petition by granting liberty to all political parties, their candidates, including any independent candidate/s proposing to contest the election in question, to approach the State Election Commissioner with their any individual or/and collective grievance,” the bench said.

Referring to the provisions of West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act, 2003, the bench said that law has empowered the SEC to pass appropriate orders in relation to any grievance, when made by any political party or their individual candidate or any independent candidate with regard to issues related to the election or its process.

The apex court referred to its 1996 verdict and said it was a settled law that “once the election process has been set in motion, the Court ought not to interfere. We are not inclined to interfere.”

It noted that the West Bengal SEC had issued a notification on April 5 providing for additional venues for filing of nomination papers in the wake of media reports about incidents of violence and prevention of some candidates from filing their nominations.

The West Bengal unit of BJP had moved the apex court seeking direction to the SEC to issue nomination forms to the party candidates, so as to enable them file their nominations.

The party had also sought urgent directions to ensure submission of the nomination papers through email and provide police protection to the candidates. It had also sought deployment of central paramilitary forces to maintain the law and order during the conduct of the Panchayat elections in the state.

It had alleged that the “democracy is being murdered” in West Bengal as ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) was engaged in large scale poll violence.

The ruling TMC had told the apex court that it was a settled law that once the poll process has started, it cannot be tinkered with by the court and if the BJP had any grievances, they can easily file election petitions or approach the SEC.

The panchayat polls are scheduled to be held on May 1, 3, and 5. The votes will be counted on May 8. According to the notification, the last date for filing of nominations was today and the last date of scrutiny of the nominations is April 11.

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