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PIL in Cal HC to defer municipal polls in Bengal amid rise in cases

Cal HC

Ashok Chatterjee

Kolkata (The Hawk): A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed at Calcutta High Court on Wednesday seeking postponement of elections for the four municipal corporations in West Bengal, due on January 22.

The petition was filed by a social worker with the plea that the election be postponed in the face of growing cases of coronavirus in the state. The petition has been accepted by a division bench of Chief Justice Prakash Srivastava and Justice Kesang Doma Bhutia.

The case is likely to be heard within this week.

Corona infections are on the rise across the country. West Bengal has one of the highest positivity rates in the country. The state health department bulletin mentions more than 9,000 corona cases being reported in the state on Tuesday. In such a scenario, there is a strong risk of infection spreading manifold. Hence, the petitioner has asked for the vote to be postponed. Meanwhile, the lawyer of the petitioner has also questioned the COVID restrictions by the State Election Commission. He argued that according to the commission rules 500 people in an open area and 200 people in a closed area can meet for an election meeting, which can lead to spread of virus even if people are gathering even for an hour.

Also the commission is not clear on the steps to be taken if anyone is found violating COVID protocols. The SEC is conducting polls without any proper guidance on conducting polls.

Voting is scheduled on January 22 in Bidhannagar, Asansol, Siliguri and Chandannagar municipalities and the results will be declared on January 25. The petitioner said experts are of the opinion that in these COVID conditions, polling, campaigning and meetings will increase the risk of infection. However, the commission has not responded to this. A SEC official said, “The election process has started. The submission of nominations and scrutiny has also been completed. In this situation, the commission is not thinking of canceling the election. We have banned road shows and processions. We have even given directives for holding public meetings.”

However, the political parties are also of the opinion that the election will not be cancelled now. They also did not inform the commission about their position on the issue. As a result, the upcoming municipal election is now hanging in balance and the high court has to take a decision on this.

Meanwhile, the final voter list of the state was released by the Election Commission. The list was released by the Chief Electoral Officer of West Bengal on Wednesday.

According to the revised final voter list of 2022, the total number of voters in 294 assembly constituencies in the state is 7 crore 43 lakh 810 people. Among them there are 3 crore 78 lakh 351 male voters and 3 crore 64 lakh 98,000 plus female voters. There are 1,642 third gender voters.

A few months ago, the Election Commission had announced the release of the draft voter list and started the necessary additions and deletion process.