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25 Apr 2018

Commission, govt 'split' on voting dates

TT, Calcutta: Fresh panchayat poll dates could not be finalised on Tuesday as consensus between the state election commission and the Mamata Banerjee government remained elusive despite another round of talks, said sources.

Poll panel officials held talks with Saurav Das, officer on special duty in the panchayat department, on Tuesday afternoon, but there was no agreement on the number of phases or the poll dates during the 45-minute meeting, the sources said.

"The government wants the first, if not the only, date to be May 14. That will be the 21st day from the last date of filing nominations on Monday. The commission, which does not want further legal complications and seeks 21 clear days in between, wants the first date to be May 15," said a source.

Disagreements cropped on the number of phases, too. The government wants single-day polls as the Ramazan begins in mid-May, said an official.

The commission - which had originally notified three-phased polls on May 1, 3 and 5 before Calcutta High Court stalled the process on Opposition complaints of intimidation by Trinamul during nominations - does not want to reduce the rounds as it believes such a move may be challenged in court. "The commission, wary of possible legal challenges, would like three phases starting May 15," said the official.

Jaitley fingers at his own tribe
Sources said that after the impasse, Das rushed back to state secretariat Nabanna to brief chief secretary Malay De, hoping to be back with the government's message for another meeting with the commission on Tuesday itself.

"But that did not happen as the commission told the government there would be no more meetings on Tuesday," said a source, adding the commission wanted to wait for the day's developments in the high court to play out so that they could be factored into the next move.

On Tuesday evening, the poll panel decided to meet "major stakeholders", including Opposition parties, to "allay their grievances" over security, in line with high court's instructions before taking a final call on the phases and dates.

"After the parties, the commission will meet state officials, including the director-general of police and the additional director-general (law and order). The commission will then finalise the dates," said a source.

A section of officials said the commission would keep an eye on the outcome of contempt petitions likely to come up before a division bench of the court on Wednesday. "The CPM will move a petition, alleging obstruction by the ruling party during Monday's nominations. As the court proceedings could have a bearing on the poll process, the commission will wait to see what happens," said an official.

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