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Kolkata Civic Polls Announced, BJP Questions SEC Notification with Matter Still Pending in High Court

The standoff between the ruling TMC and the BJP over pending civic body polls intensified after the West Bengal state election commission on Thursday issued a notification regarding Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) elections.

Taken aback by the poll date, West Bengal BJP leaders raised questions over how the SEC had issued notification for the KMC elections, even when the matter was pending before the Calcutta High Court for a hearing on November 29.

Pratap Banerjee, in-charge of the upcoming KMC election management committee of the BJP, had a word with the legal cell of the party (after the poll notification was issued by the SEC) and pleaded before a division bench to hear their grievances. Sources said the high court had agreed for a hearing on Friday.

According to the notification issued by the SEC, secretary N Sandilya, polling (in all the 144 wards) will be held on December 19 from 7 am to and 5 pm, and counting will be held on December 21. The model code of conduct comes into effect from Friday.

The last date of filing nominations is December 1, while scrutiny will be held on December 2. The last date of withdrawal of candidates is December 4 and the entire election process will be completed on December 22.

Speaking to News18.com, state BJP vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar said, “The state election commission is helpless and it is acting on the instructions of the ruling government. It is unfortunate that the state EC is biased and favouring the ruling party.”

Former state BJP president Dilip Ghosh expressed shock over the notification. “I don’t know what is happening… how come the state election commission issued the KMC poll notification when the matter is pending in the court… very surprising,” he said.

On November 24, the Calcutta HC, while going through a plea on holding simultaneous elections to all civic bodies in West Bengal, deferred the hearing for November 29.

Earlier, the court on November 16 had sought a response from the West Bengal SEC and the state government, based on a petition filed by BJP leader Pratap Banerjee who demanded that the elections should be simultaneously conducted for all municipal bodies in the state that have been pending for long.

Officials of the SEC told the court that they were ready to hold the polls in Kolkata and Howrah because the Covid-19 situation was under control, and that conducting the polling in a phased manner will smoothen out management issues.

The ruling party has demanded that the civic polls should be held in phases and the SEC should initiate the poll process from Howrah and Kolkata first. However, on Friday, while the SEC announced the date for KMC polls, it did not mention poll dates for Howrah. West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankar, on November 24, returned the bill for separating Bally from Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) seeking clarification on 18 points.

TMC MP Saugata Roy said, “We welcome the KMC poll notification issued by the SEC. They could not announce the civic poll date for Howrah after the governor didn’t give the green signal to separate Bally municipality from Howrah Municipal Corporation. But it is good news that the KMC poll date has been announced and we are hopeful that once again people will vote for us.”

Congress MP Pradeep Bhattacharya condemned the SEC decision to hold KMC polls without informing the court. “We have demanded simultaneous polling in all the pending civic bodies in the state, but the ruling party is forcibly creating a situation before the SEC to conduct polls in a phased manner. It is shocking that they didn’t inform the court before announcing the poll dates. We are hopeful that the court will look into the matter,” he said.

CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty, too, said, “There is no logic behind conducting phase-wise polling in civic bodies in the state.”