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21 Apr 2018

Panel to meet parties today on fresh dates

TT, Apr 21, 2018, Calcutta: The Bengal election commission will meet all parties on Saturday before it holds talks with the government to rework the rural poll schedule in the wake of Friday's high court order.

Sources said the panel took the decision after going through the court order asking it to allow an extra day for nominations and rework the poll schedule in consultation with the government.

On Saturday, the panel will meet the parties, including the Opposition, first to try and understand the problems they allegedly faced in trying to file nominations, followed by talks with the government, sources said.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the government was keen to wrap up the process before the Ramazan month begins in mid-May.

Sources initially said there could be a single-phase election to avoid voting during the holy month.

"We welcome the judgment. We want the elections as early as possible. We had planned to hold them in the first week of May as the temperature gets unbearable in the second week of May. Besides, we want the elections held before Ramazan," Mamata said on Friday evening.

Senior state officials said copies of the court order were received around 9.15pm on Friday. The first step in reworking the poll plan is to extend the nomination filing by a day in line with the ruling.

The sources said that if Monday was fixed as the extended date, meeting Mamata's deadline by sticking to the three-phase polls was impossible. The polls were originally slated for May 1, 3 and 5 with the counting on May 8.

"The court order has mentioned that the rescheduling has to be done as per the statutory framework... This means a gap of 21 days between the last day of filing nomination and the first date of polls is a must under the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act, 2003," said a panel official.

The commission will announce the fresh dates after consulting the government. "If Monday is the last date for nominations, the first day of polls cannot be before May 15. In that case, there is a possibility of a one-day poll that day," said a source.

But a one-day voting may invite fresh legal challenges as the Opposition could move court again claiming inadequate security arrangements given that the state government is against central forces.

Trinamul sources said if the polls did not take place on May 15, the whole process would have to be deferred till after the month of Ramazan. "In that case, the elections will have to be held in mid-July during the monsoon," said a source.

"Although the five-year termsof most bodies end in the third week of August, the chief minister does not want the elections to coincide with the Ramazan month or the monsoon," the source added.

The 2013 panchayat polls held in five phases - July 11, 15, 19, 22 and 25 - had coincided with Ramazan .

But the dates had been finalised by the Supreme Court according to the Centre's convenience in sending central forces, despite objections from the Trinamul government. The top court had dismissed petitions that had sought changes in the poll schedule because of the Ramazan month

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