West Bengal's opposition parties on Tuesday accused the State Election Commission of "acting like a puppet" in the hands of the ruling Trinamool Congress and moved court after it recalled its order extending the last date for filing nominations for Panchayat polls.
On a day of high drama, the court gave an interim stay to the SEC's order earlier in the day recalling its Monday night decision extending the deadline for filing nomination toll 3 pm on Tuesday.
The SEC cited legal issues.
"On perusal of all the papers, the Commission hereby recalls the said order and therefore rescinds the order dated April 9, 2018," said the fresh order issued by State Election Commissioner A.K. Singh, who also referred to a letter from the state government and a representation from Trinamool MP and lawyer Kalyan Banerjee which pointed out "legal infirmities" in the panel's Monday night order.
Singh also said the Supreme Court, which heard the BJP's plea for rescheduling the polls, had not given any "specific direction" to extend the nomination date.
Protesting against the decision, the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership moved the Calcutta High Court, and obtained an interim stay on the new order. The court also asked the SEC to take care of the grievances and complaints lodged by individuals as well as by the political parties regarding filing of nominations for the rural polls next month.
The matter would be heard again on April 23. The court also directed all parties involved in the case to file affidavits on their standpoint.
"The learned court has given an interim stay on the order issued by State Election Commission on April 10 (Tuesday)...The court has also directed the EC to take care of the grievances of individuals and parties regarding filing of nominations for the Panchayat polls," BJP state General Secretary Pratap Banerjee said outside the court.
"According to the High Court's order, we would send a letter to the SEC with an appeal that those of our activists who were stopped from filing their papers by Trinamool goons should be given a chance to file their nomination and exercise their democratic rights," he added.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) workers held a protest outside the SEC office against its directive to withdraw the extended deadline for filing nominations and alleged it was crumbling under the pressure of the state government and Trinamool.
"This is an unprecedented situation. The SEC is not able to take any decision on its own. It is acting like a puppet in the hands of Bengal government and the ruling party. We condemn this. We are holding a demonstration here but our party would also move to court against the EC's order," said CPI-M leader Sujan Chakraborty.
Seventeen Left parties, alongside their associates, held an emergency meeting and decided to hold sit-ins before its office on April 11, 12, 13 and 16. They also decided to approach the Supreme Court and said they could go to the extent of calling a general strike.
BJP activists also demonstrated outside the SEC office through the day.
However, Trinamool MP and lawyer Kalyan Banerjee claimed that the High Court's order has gone in favour of the state government as the court has not given any direction to EC to extend the date of nominations.
"The court has not extended the date of nomination which the opposition parties were demanding. The SEC issued an order on April 9 but as the time is over it has become infructuous. The court has asked the SEC to take the final call. However, the SEC has already said before court that tomorrow is the day for scrutiny of nomination forms, so the routine cannot be changed," said Banerjee, who was himself present during Tuesday's hearing.
West Bengal State Election Commission on Monday night extended the deadline for filing of nominations for the coming Pahchhayat elections by a day, up to 3 p.m. on Tuesday stating the decision was taken following complaints and deputations that many intending candidates could not file their nomination papers as they and their proposers were "obstructed" or prevented from submitting their papers.
The three-phase Panchayat polls will be held on May 1, 3 and 5.
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