Displeased with the State Election Commission’s (SEC) decision to cancel its own order to extend the nomination process by a day, the Calcutta High Court today stayed the ongoing panchayat election process in West Bengal till further orders.
Rejecting the SEC’s contention that the writ petition of the BJP was not maintainable, the court held that the SEC is endowed with powers relating to holding of elections, but in case of any digression, it needs to be corrected by the court of law.
Justice Subrata Talukdar stayed till further orders the ongoing panchayat election process in West Bengal.
Talukdar also sought from the SEC by Monday a comprehensive status report on the poll process, detailing the number of nominations filed and the percentage of those rejected, among other information.
The court said it would hear on April 16 the pleas challenging the SEC’s decision to withdraw its April 9 notification, which had extended the date for filing nominations by a day.
The BJP had challenged the cancellation of the notification dated April 9 by the commission vide its order dated April 10, withdrawing the one-day extension granted to the candidates to file their nomination papers.
The deadline to file nominations had expired at 3 pm on April 9.
Justice Talukdar observed that the commission had recognised the grievances expressed by different political parties as well as individuals by extending the date.
“However, the order was abruptly withdrawn,” he said.
Justice Talukdar had on April 10 stayed the SEC order, permitting the commission to take steps in accordance with the law by treating the operation of its order dated April 10 to have been kept in abeyance.
Referring to the Supreme Court order with regard to a petition by the West Bengal unit of the BJP challenging the SEC’s decision to recall the extension order, Justice Talukdar said that the operative part of the apex court order is crucially connected to the cancellation of the notification.
The high court also said that the SEC should have informed it today that it has ensured a level playing field for all players.
Justice Talukdar also expressed his displeasure at the conduct of the BJP representative, Pratap Banerjee, who had moved the petition on behalf of the party in view of an ongoing cease work by lawyers, for not disclosing that a similar petition had been moved by the party before the Supreme Court also.
Justice Talukdar observed that this court must hold a very dim view of the conduct of the BJP representative appearing in person.
“However, in view of public interest involved, this court is not vacating its directions to the SEC,” the judge said.
Likening its conduct to forum hopping, Justice Talukdar imposed a cost of Rs 5 lakh on the BJP which would have to be deposited with the registrar general of the high court.
Representing the Trinamool Congress, its vice-president Kalyan Banerjee earlier prayed for vacating the order on the SEC, alleging that the petitioner had suppressed that it had moved both the high court and the apex court with similar petitions.