Kolkata: In an unprecedented move, the Calcutta high court on Tuesday ordered the West Bengal State Election Commission to accept nominations filed by nine contestants for the upcoming panchayat polls through WhatsApp after they were physically restrained from completing the paperwork.
Justice Subrata Talukdar, however, declined to extend the deadline for filing nominations which ended at 3pm on Monday. Nine contestants from an ultra-Left resistance group from Bhangar in South 24 Parganas district had sent their nomination papers to the block development officer through WhatsApp.
Nilanjan Shandilya, secretary of the commission, confirmed that the nominations had been received. Justice Talukdar asked him to treat the nominations as legitimate after the contestants expressed concern that their nominations could be cancelled at the time of scrutiny.
Sharmistha Chowdhury, leader of CPI-ML (Red Star), said that she and a few others of her resistance group were held captive for hours by miscreants and not allowed to file nominations. The court asked the commission to file a report on 30 April showing compliance with its directions.
Bhangar has been on the boil for over a year after locals came together led by CPI-ML (Red Star) to stall the construction of a power substation.
Alik Chakraborty, a leader of the outfit, had said the group would fight the panchayat polls to take the movement forward.
The CPI-ML (Red Star) had moved court on Monday as well. The commission was ordered to ensure that the contestants from the ultra-Left group were able to file nominations. After they failed to do so, the commission agreed to receive their nominations through WhatsApp.
Some 16 seats at Polerhat-II gram panchayat in Bhangar would have been won uncontested if the resistance group had not been allowed to file nominations, according to Chowdhury.
Citing rampant violence on Monday, the Congress had moved the court of justice Talukdar seeking further extension of time for filing nominations. Though he declined to extend the window, the court asked the commission to address the grievances of opposition parties.
The secretary of the commission was asked to hold “meaningful discussions" with all stakeholders and step up security arrangements for the panchayat polls. He was also sought a report on security arrangements. Riju Ghosal, a lawyer for the Congress, said his party would move the division bench seeking its intervention.
Meanwhile, the commission submitted in court that as many as 5,691 new nominations were filed on Monday, which included over 4,000 nominations for gram panchayat seats, and over 1,300 nominations for panchayat samiti seats. The commission, however, did not announce a revised schedule for polling.
In an interview with News 18 Bangla, a Bengali news channel, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said opposition parties in the state had ganged up to disrupt the panchayat polls. Their allegations were baseless, she said, pointing to the fact that more than 96,000 opposition candidates had filed nominations.
Those who had died in the run-up to the elections were all Trinamool Congress supporters, she claimed, while slamming a section of the media for distorting facts to undermine her image nationally.