The Calcutta High Court on Thursday directed the State Election Commission (SEC) to conduct the July 8 panchayat elections in West Bengal under blanket security cover of central armed forces in all the districts.
A division bench of Chief Justice T.S. Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharya directed the SEC to write to the Union Home Ministry for deployment of central forces within the next 48 hours.
In its earlier order, the division bench had ordered deployment of central forces in only seven sensitive districts of the state. The SEC and the state government had filed a review petition of this order.
The hearing in the matter concluded at around 4 p.m. on Thursday, with the division bench reserving its order. However, at around 7 p.m., the division bench pronounced its verdict in the matter, ordering deployment of central forces throughout the state for the rural civic body polls.
While passing the order, the bench also observed that any further delay in deployment of central forces might result in further damages due to poll-related clashes and violence.
The bench also said that the cost of deployment of central forces should be borne by the Union government.
The indication of deployment of central forces came at the beginning of the hearing, as Justice Sivagnanam expressed ire over the lapses on the part of the SEC. He also expressed anguish over the SEC's inability to identify the sensitive booths.
"You have the scope for appearing at a higher court. But if you create a situation so that my order is not implemented, I cannot just remain silent. Section 144 has been implemented at different places. The police should strictly enforce that," Justice Sivagnanam noted.
Welcoming the order of the division bench, leader of opposition in West Bengal Assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, said that the court has rightly pointed out the failure of the SEC in ensuring free and fair polls.
"I wholeheartedly welcome the (court's) decision," Adhikari said.
However, Trinamool Congress spokesman Kunal Ghosh said that deployment of central forces can never be an ultimate solution.
"If the central armed forces are so effective, why is Manipur burning," Ghosh asked.
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