Centre told to reconsider no to forces for Bengal panchayat polls

Kolkata, June 24: With the central government expressing its inability to provide security forces for the upcoming West Bengal panchayat polls, the Calcutta High Court Monday gave it a day’s time to reconsider its decision and inform it about the minimum number of personnel it can spare.

“The division bench of Chief Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi has asked us to reconsider our decision on the issue of providing security forces for the panchayat polls. We will inform the court about our stand Tuesday,” said central government’s counsel S.S. Sarkar.

The order came during the hearing on an application filed by the State Election Commission (SEC) seeking adequate security measures for the polls slated for July 2, 6 and 9.

During the day, the central government, citing “overstretched deployment” especially in the wake of the Uttarakhand calamity, informed the court that it was not possible for it to provide the central security forces as requisitioned by the Mamata Banerjee government for the polls.

The SEC then told the court that it was not possible for it to hold the polls without adequate security. It also said that any rescheduling of the polls, if possible, can be done only if the state government assured the panel of adequate security.

The SEC counsel, citing a home ministry report, said the central government had earlier provided central armed police force for the panchayat polls in Andhra Pradesh.

“If the centre can provide armed forces for Andhra Pradesh panchayat polls, then why it can’t do the same to Bengal,” the court asked the centre’s counsel who said that this was done in view of the Telangana issue.

“If there is the Telangana issue in Andhra, in Bengal, we have Junglemahal (Maoist-affected forested areas of the state),” said the court.

The court also asked the state government if it was possible for it to compel the central government to grant the security forces.

With the poll panel adamant on conducting the polls only in the event of availability of adequate security forces, West Bengal advocate general Bimal Chatterjee accused the SEC of “not willing to conduct the polls at all”.

Observing that conducting the panchayat polls was a constitutional obligation, the court asked the stakeholders to explore avenues to resolve the impasse.

“What is the way out? Compensating the security shortfall? Amending the poll schedule? The parties will have to address the court on a solution,” observed the court.

The matter will next come up for hearing Tuesday.

IANS