KOLKATA: West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Tuesday cautioned State Election Commissioner Saurav Das against toeing the line of the state government on holding elections to Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and other civic bodies separately, describing this as an “outrage of Constitution”.
The ruling Trinamool Congress was quick to hit back, accusing Dhankhar of crossing his constitutional limits.
The West Bengal government has proposed to the SEC that elections to municipal corporations of Kolkata and Howrah be held first and those to the around 100 other municipal bodies where polls are pending be taken up later.
SEC officials recently indicated that they have accepted the proposal.
The notification in this regard is yet to be issued.
“Cautioned Shri Saurav Das that SEC toeing line of State Government and be merely its executing agency, would be an outrage of Constitution as also unwholesome for democratic process,” the governor tweeted.
Dhankhar, in a letter to Das, said he had received numerous inputs that the SEC is abdicating its constitutional mandate and authority and toeing the line of the state government.
“(The SEC is) in effect executing the directions of the state government in the matter of holding upcoming elections to the municipalities in the state,” he wrote in the letter, a copy of which he attached to his tweet.
He said Article 243ZA of the Constitution in categorical terms invests the SEC with “the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to the municipalities.”
This constitutional mandate for the SEC can in no manner be qualified or diluted by any law by state as, in terms of Article 243ZA(2), such law has to be subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the governor said.
Maintaining that the SEC had mooted the idea of simultaneous elections to all the municipalities earlier, Dhankhar said overwhelming political inputs are for the same.
“It is imperative at your end to ensure that constitutional mandate is regarded both in letter and spirit, and am sure you will bear this in mind,” the governor told Das in the letter.
He wrote that the SEC is expected to act independently of the government.
“Further, it is trite legal proposition that provisions of an enactment cannot override, in any manner whatsoever, the stipulations in the Constitution. The supremacy of the constitutional prescription is non-negotiable,” Dhankhar said.
Dhankhar’s letter drew a sharp reaction from the ruling TMC, which accused the Governor of crossing his constitutional limits.
“The state government has every right to send a proposal. The governor is interfering with the administrative and constitutional rights of the state government,” senior TMC leader and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee said.
Dhankar’s views were, however, echoed by the opposition BJP, Congress and the CPI(M)-led Left Front.
“We want that elections to all the municipalities are held together. The state government since 2019 has been delaying the elections for their political interests. Later, they blamed it on the COVID pandemic,” state BJP vice-president Pratap Banerjee said.
The BJP has moved the Calcutta High Court seeking that poll to all municipal bodies where it is due be held together on a single day.
The case is pending.
The opposition Congress and the Left Front, which doesn’t have any representation in the state assembly, accused the state government of delaying the civic elections for political reasons.
“The state government has no proper explanation on why it is delaying the elections to other municipal bodies. They (TMC) are delaying the polls in areas where they are not on the strong ground politically,” senior CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said.
The proposed date for the elections to KMC, as well as Howrah Municipal Corporation, is December 19.
The elections to KMC, along with 112 other municipalities and municipal corporations, were due in April-May 2020.
But the polls were postponed due to the raging COVID pandemic.
The civic bodies where elections are due are being run by state-appointed Board of Administrators.