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HC refuses to intervene in Panchayat poll schedule

Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court on Friday made scathing observations on the State Election Commission's neutrality in the forthcoming Panchayat elections and directed it to consider those as a wake-up call, refusing to intervene in the poll schedule announced by it.
A division Bench of Justice Biswanath Somadder and Justice Arindam Mukherjee said the SEC had "floundered in upholding its constitutional obligations." The Bench added that it was expected that the Commission would redeem itself by treating the court's observations as a wake-up call. The division Bench also refused to intervene in the single Bench order that had said it does not intend to interrupt the electoral exercise further nor intervene by passing any direction in this petition.
The observations were made by the division Bench in its order regarding an appeal by Ritju Ghosal, the general secretary of Bengal state unit of the Indian National Congress, against the single Bench judgment.
The petition, filed by the Congress, had sought quashing of the SEC notification to hold the polls in a single phase on May 14.
Taking a strong view about the functioning of the poll panel, the court order stated: "Keeping all the above factors in mind and based on a broad conspectus of the facts of the present case, we refrain from interfering with the order impugned only for such reasons as stated earlier. It is expected that the State Election Commission shall redeem itself upon taking note of the observations made hereinbefore as a wake-up call."
"…However, in the facts of the present case, we find that the State Election Commission — ever since the issuance of the initial notification… with regard to holding of the 2018 Panchayat elections, has acted in such a manner that eyebrows have been raised and accusatory fingers have been pointed against it time and again. Its neutrality has been seriously questioned. It has floundered while performing its Constitutional obligation to uphold the democratic principles in a fair and transparent manner leading to a spate of litigations ever since the election process was set to motion," it further read.
The Bench also directed that the observations made by this court could not be used by any political party or individual participating in the elections.
The SEC had initially announced that the Panchayat polls were to be held in three phases from May 1 to 5 but in another notification, following a single Bench order, had rescheduled the elections and announced May 14 as the polling day in the entire state.
Meanwhile, a set of petitions filed by the Opposition parties are awaiting the attention of the division Bench led by the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court.
The matter, on the alleged inadequacy of security for the election which was supposed to be heard on Friday, will now be heard on May 8. The SEC will have to convince the division Bench led by Chief Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya that it has adequate security measures in place to ensure fair and peaceful elections.
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