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21 Apr 2018

HC orders extra day, fresh poll schedule

AK Singh, state election commissioner 
TT, Calcutta: Calcutta High Court on Friday quashed the state election commission's U-turn on the panchayat polls and asked it to incorporate one more day into the process for filing nominations and work out a new poll schedule in consultation with the Bengal government.

"The notification issued by the state election commission on April 10 (withdrawing its own order allowing an additional day to file nominations) stands quashed.... The court hereby directs the commission to issue a fresh notification giving a day's time for filing of nomination by willing candidates," Justice Subrata Talukdar said in his 35-page judgment.

"The state election commission is also directed to reschedule the poll dates in consultation with the government," the order added.

It said the state government was "well within its rights" to issue an advisory to the poll panel in which it had questioned the rationale behind the deadline extension, done through a notification on April 9 evening.

On Saturday, the poll panel will meet all the political parties participating in the rural polls before holding consultations with the government in the afternoon. 

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee welcomed the order. The government is keen to wrap up the poll process - originally the votes would have been counted on May 8 after a three-phase polling - before the month of Ramazan begins mid-May.

However, since a 21-day gap is mandatory between the last day for filing nominations and the first day of polling, meeting a pre-Ramazan target will be tough unless a one-day vote is agreed on.

The court order will not affect the candidates who have already filed nominations and stayed in the fray after scrutiny. More candidates can now file nominations.

The court did not accept the state government's argument about the purported problems with rescheduling the poll dates, originally set for May 1, 3 and 5.

As the court has vacated its interim order stalling the election process, the commission can now proceed with the remaining part of the process. These include deciding the extra day for filing nominations, scrutiny of the fresh nominations and allowing withdrawal of nominations, followed by distribution of the symbols, conducting the polls and declaring the results.

The state government had challenged the maintainability of the petitions moved by the BJP, CPM, Congress and the PDS seeking the court's intervention.

All the Opposition parties involved in the case claimed victory after the judgment.

Trinamul said the Opposition's attempt to get the election process scrapped and have state election commissioner A.K. Singh removed had not succeeded.

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