The CPM had submitted a list of over 800 intending candidates, claiming that they were prevented from filing nominations at the designated offices and thus, had sent their documents to the SEC through email. Photo: AFP
The CPM had submitted a list of over 800 intending candidates, claiming that they were prevented from filing nominations at the designated offices and thus, had sent their documents to the SEC through email. Photo: AFP

West Bengal panchayat polls: Calcutta high court allows filing of nominations through email

A division bench of justices B. Somadder and A. Mukherjee directed the SEC to accept the valid nominations, filed through email by 3pm on 23 April

Kolkata: The Calcutta high court on Tuesday created a precedent by ruling that the West Bengal State Election Commission ought to have treated as legitimate nominations filed by email, rejecting the commission’s argument that there was no provision under the laws of the state to accept nominations sent by electronic messaging.

A division bench of justices Biswanath Somadder and Arindam Mukherjee ruled that, under the Information Technology Act of 2000, the commission should have agreed to receive nominations by email, and that it would have prevented “large-scale violence and loss of precious human life". The bench passed the verdict on an appeal filed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, which has claimed that it had sent some 800 emails to returning officers to file nominations.

Though the bench admitted that filing of nominations through electronic messaging is not a “recognized procedure", it held that the commission should have allowed it in the wake of widespread allegations of intending candidates being obstructed from filing paperwork. The commission itself had admitted to disruptions by extending the window for filing of nominations by a day, the judges pointed out.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday claimed that it, too, had sent about 2,000 emails to the commission to file nominations and that these nominations should be held as legitimate. BJP spokesperson Sayantan Basu said though Tuesday’s verdict did not mention the emails sent by his party, the commission now has no option but to accept them as legitimate. Polling is scheduled to take place on 14 May.

Following the verdict, the commission is faced with a “huge logistical challenge" because it will now have to scrutinise all these nominations and make changes to ballot papers to accommodate the new candidates, according to an official at the commission.

It is not immediately clear if the commission or the state government will move the Supreme Court challenging the verdict.

Opposition parties have not been able to field candidates in at least 20,076 seats across the three tiers of panchayat, or about 34.2% of seats to which elections are to be held, which is a record high, beating the 11% in 2003 during the Left regime. Opposition parties have alleged that their candidates were forcibly blocked from filing nominations and have sought judicial intervention.

Meanwhile, another division bench of Calcutta High Court comprising chief justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya reserved its verdict over the adequacy of security arrangements for polling after opposition parties expressed the fear that they would be rigged.

The commission and the administration separately submitted that at least 61,000 police personnel and 80,000 civic volunteers would be deployed to guard the polling booths. The state also submitted that it has a strength of 71,500 police personnel, but did not immediately clarify how many of them would be deployed.

The commission said that in each booth at least one policeman with a firearm will be deployed. The bench asked the commission for its opinion on whether the arrangement was adequate.

Dispute over the arrangements arose after the commission decided that polling will be held in a single phase on 14 May and not in three phases as announced earlier.

The bench will pass its verdict on Thursday.

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