Kolkata: In a major setback to the Mamata Banerjee government, the Calcutta High Court Friday ordered three-phased panchayat (rural body) polls in West Bengal with deployment of security forces including central paramilitary force personnel.
Meanwhile, the Banerjee government has announced its decision to appeal against the court's verdict
The order by Justice Biswanath Sommader came on a writ petition by the State Election Commission (SEC) challenging the Banerjee government's announcement of a two-stage polls under the supervision of only the state security forces.
In its petition, the Commission raised question about section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Election Act, citing which the Banerjee government March 22 had announced two-phased polls to be held April 26 and April 30, under the supervision of the state police personnel.
The court also directed the state government to finalise the list of election observers and intimate the poll panel about it by Saturday.
Observing that the state government itself has admitted shortfall of adequate security personnel for the approximate 57,000 polling booths, the court directed the state government to intimate the SEC by Saturday about "fully compensating the shortfall of security personnel by deployment of central paramilitary forces as well as forces from other states".
Reading out the verdict, Justice Sommader described the Banerjee government's refusal to deploy central security forces, despite repeated requests by the poll panel, as "unreasonable".
The court directed the SEC to communicate the state government about the three-phased polls. The panel has been also been directed to draw up the revised poll schedule "as soon as possible" and conduct the elections before the term of the existing panchayat bodies expire.
"It is absolutely necessary to hold the elections before the expiry of the present term of the panchayat," said Justice Sommader about the existing tenure of the rural body slated to expire in June.
The state government, which had defended its refusal to deploy central security forces citing financial constraints, came in for sharp criticism from the court.
"Resources, funds can never stand in way of elections," said the court and described the SEC as an "apolitical constitutional body having a pivotal role in conducting and supervising fair elections".
The court also has asked the Commission to notify the political parties directing them not to use the court's observations in the petition, for or during their poll campaign.
Describing the government's legal battle with the Commission as "unfortunate", the court, announcing its directions, said: "Extraordinary situation has arisen which needs to be dealt in an extraordinary manner."