Kolkata: A hearing on Thursday on the row over panchayat elections in West Bengal ended with the Calcutta high court asking the state election commission to spell out steps it had taken to address allegations of opposition parties that they were not being able to file nominations.
The court will pass its verdict on Friday.
The election watchdog toed the line taken by the Trinamool Congress and told the court that the judiciary could not intervene once the election process had started.
The panchayat election in the state—scheduled to be held between 1 May and 8 May—was stalled by an order of justice Subrata Talukdar last week after the state election commission extended time for filing nominations and then reversed it.
Without admitting to any of the allegations made in the petitions, the commission said the election needs to be held without any delay while maintaining that it should be allowed to function without interference.
Justice Talukdar said he was hearing the matter at the instruction of the Supreme Court and that the state election commission was answerable to the apex court on what steps had been taken to “allay concerns" of opposition parties.
Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, former mayor of Kolkata and lawyer representing the Left parties, said the judiciary was within its rights to intervene even after the electoral process had started if it is seen that due process of law was not being followed. Questioning its neutrality, he said the state election commission did nothing to make sure opposition candidates could file nominations.
Earlier in a verdict passed by a division bench of the Calcutta high court, it was observed that the apex court had already considered the question of whether the judiciary could intervene. It was also held that justice Talukdar, who had issued an injunction to halt the electoral process, would continue to hear the matter.
On Thursday, he asked the state government why it objected to the commission’s decision to extend the window for filing nominations. Congress member of Parliament (MP) Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged the commission was acting at the behest of the Trinamool Congress, the ruling party.
The commission said monsoons are approaching and that it would be difficult to hold elections during the rainy season. It is almost certain that panchayat election in West Bengal will not to be held as scheduled. Clarity is expected to emerge after the court gives its verdict.