The Calcutta High Court, on a plea filed by Leader of Opposition of West Bengal Suvendu Adhikari and another individual, yesterday directed the deployment of central forces in all districts of West Bengal within 48 hours for the purpose of peaceful conduct of the upcoming Panchayat Elections. It wondered why the SEC (State Election Commission) is yet to identify the sensitive districts in spite of several news reports of violence and despite its earlier direction.

A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice T.S. Sivagnanam and Justice Uday Kumar said, “… this Court is at a loss to understand as to why the State Election Commission is yet to identify the sensitive districts in spite of several news reports reporting violence in several areas whereby the candidates who were desirous of filing nominations were prevented from doing so. … this writ petition is disposed of by directing the State Election Commission to requisition the deployment of Central Forces for all Districts in the State of West Bengal and this direction shall be complied with by the State Election Commission within 48 hours from the date of the receipt of the server copy of this order.”

The Bench observed that waiting any longer will cause more damage to the situation and will not aid in protecting the purity of the election process.

Earlier, the High Court on PILs filed by Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and LOP Suvendu Adhikari had directed the SEC to fix a reasonable time for the candidates to file their nominations on the ground that the time fixed by it was inadequate in nature. It also directed the Commission to take a decision on the demand of the petitioners to deploy central forces in the State during the election. Later on, it ordered to deploy the central forces as per the requisition of the SEC in sensitive districts, while holding that it cannot issue a writ of mandamus directing SEC to extend the period for filing nominations.

Advocates Soumya Majumder and Lokenath Chatterjee among others appeared for the petitioners while Senior Advocate Jayanta Mitra, ASG Ashoke Kumar Chakraborti, Senior Advocate Kalyan Bandopadhyay, and Advocate Ritzu Ghosal appeared for the SEC, Centre, State, and intervenors respectively.

In this case, a public interest writ petition was filed for issuance of a writ of mandamus to direct the SEC to immediately file a report marking the areas which were sensitive after considering the Election Commission of India Report earmarking sensitive areas during the 2021 Assembly Elections as well as the NHRC and a special committee report filed pursuant to directions issued in the post-poll violence case and immediately requisition and deploy Central Para-military Forces in such areas and also at the areas where the state security assessment report denoted to have an inadequate force to provide security till after the declaration of the results.

It was further prayed to direct the SEC to allow the filing of nominations by the candidates contesting in Gram Panchayat Samity and Zilla Parishad who were prevented from filing their nominations in the respective officers of the SDOs and to direct the SEC to ensure that all police personnel shall present their Government issued photo identity card along with Badge Number, tag and Aadhar Card and also other State Government Officials while discharging election related duties.

The High Court in view of the above prayers noted, “There is also allegation that civic volunteers have been given police uniform and they have been deployed for election duty. In the order dated 13.06.2023 deployment of Civic Volunteers for election duty has been specifically prohibited. Therefore, if any attempt is made by any authority to make the said order unworkable will be liable for action under the Contempt of Courts Act.”

The Court further noted that in any event, the State should ensure that the officers and employees of the State who are deployed for election duty should carry a valid identity card with full particulars of their employment so that in the event of any doubt being created, the identity of the concerned person can be easily ascertained. It, therefore, directed SEC to issue a circular in this regard immediately.

“… considering the sensitivity of the problem, the Court in the earlier writ petition had directed the State Election Commission to forthwith requisition the Central forces. However, the matter has been dragged on and we find that the State authorities have not extended the due support though a decision was taken as early as 09.06.2023 for identification of the sensitive areas from law and order point of view. Therefore, we are of the view that we will be well justified to issue appropriate directions which to our mind is absolutely essential in order to ensure free and fair elections. We wish to emphasize that a direction in this regard is required to be issued bearing in mind the electorate, the people of West Bengal, who will exercise their franchise in the ensuing election”, held the Court.

The Court said that it is well justified in entertaining the public interest litigation and considering the matter from a wholesome perspective. It further said that no appreciable steps have been taken ever since the order was passed in the earlier writ petitions and till date, no effective steps have been taken to identify sensitive areas from a law and order point of view and that it may take a couple of more days to do so.

“On receipt of the requisition the appropriate authority of the Central Government shall deploy the required number of Central Forces and the cost to be borne by the Central Government and no part of it to be charged to the Government of West Bengal. The State Election Commission shall issue a circular that all officers who have been assigned for election duty shall display their identity cards prominently and whenever any of the observers or any authority calls upon to prove their identity, they should readily and immediately produce their identity card and establish their identity”, directed the Court.

Accordingly, the Court disposed of the plea.

Cause Title- Suvendu Adhikari and Anr. v. State of West Bengal and Ors.

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