Opposition parties have sought more time to file nominations and the deployment of central paramilitary forces for the panchayat polls being held in West Bengal on July 8, citing violence during the previous elections.
State election commissioner Rajiva Sinha, a former chief secretary whose appointment was cleared on Wednesday, on Thursday said the nomination process will commence on Friday and continue until June 15 while results will be announced on July 11. He added the nominations can be filed between 11am and 3pm except on Sundays and holidays. “Scrutiny of nominations will be done on June 17 and the last day for their withdrawal is June 20.”
Sinha, who retired from the Indian Administrative Service in 2020, said no campaigning will be allowed between 10pm and 8am.
In 2018, violence marred the panchayat polls and left 20 people dead. The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) bagged around 90% of seats including 34% of them uncontested.
The state has 58,513 gram panchayats and 9,730 panchayat samitis. Around 56.7 million voters are eligible to vote for in the panchayat polls. The tenure of the panchayat boards ended around six months back.
The opposition parties alleged candidates were threatened and stopped from filing nomination papers in the 2018 rural polls and 2021 assembly elections.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state chief Sukanta Majumdar called Sinha an appointee of the TMC and said central forces were also deployed for the 2013 panchayat polls. He added they are ready for the polls but the manner in which the dates have been announced clearly shows that Sinha was working under instructions “from his employer”. “We will move the Calcutta high court for more time for filing nominations.”
State Congress Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury questioned how can the parties finalise a few thousand candidates at such short notice. Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Md Salim echoed him.
TMC leader Kunal Ghosh said the opposition parties were making excuses to hide their weakness. “All parties knew that the poll schedule would be announced any moment. They could have selected their candidates long ago. These parties do not have candidates against the TMC,” said Ghosh.
Sinha said they will inform the state government if they need additional forces. ”Law and order are responsibilities of the state government. All state officials will work under the election commission. I am sure the director general of police has assessed the law and order situation.”
He added they have been holding discussions with state officials since Wednesday. “If we are saying we are ready, people should also understand that we are ready. How can I say now that I would not get an adequate police force? Holding a poll is a joint decision. How can I assume that the state government is not prepared? Otherwise, they would not have recommended the date.”
Sinha said no decision has been taken on the filing of nominations online. “We will discuss this with the state government. Special circumstances forced the Election Commission of India (ECI) to take special steps in the last polls,” he said when asked whether candidates will be allowed to file nominations online or through apps as was done in some cases in the 2021 assembly polls.
He referred to the demands for security cameras in every polling booth and said logistics is a big issue. “Even the ECI cannot have close circuit cameras in all booths.”