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Covid Cases Rising at ‘Galloping Speed’, Consider Postponing Civic Elections, Calcutta HC Tells Poll Panel

The Calcutta High Court on Friday suggested that the West Bengal state election commission (SEC) should consider rescheduling pending municipal elections at Siliguri, Chandannagar, Bidhannagar and Asansol by four to six weeks, due to the “galloping speed” at which Covid-19 cases are rising in the state.

At the time of making the suggestion, the high court asked the SEC to clear its stand within 48 hours after consultation with medical experts. The HC was hearing a PIL seeking to postpone the civic body elections.

The HC bench of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj observed, “We dispose of the present petition with a direction to the state election commission to consider the galloping speed with which Covid cases are increasing; and to take into account if holding elections will be in public interest, and if free and fair elections will be possible on the dates notified, and take a decision in respect of the postponement of date of elections of aforesaid four municipal corporations for a short period of four to six weeks.”

The bench further stated, “It is clear that the WBEC is empowered to take a decision in respect of deferment of elections if the situation is not suitable. The respondent is directed to take a decision in this regard within a period of 48 hours. It will be open to the petitioner to submit all relevant material relating to the existing Covid-19 situation…”

On Thursday, the HC had expressed dissatisfaction over the poll body’s response, particularly when asked if the SEC had the power to defer elections.

During the proceedings, the court also examined the submission made by the state government and the SEC on the present Covid-19 situation in Bidhannagar, Chandannagar, Asansol and Siliguri, where civic polls are scheduled for January 22.

Senior lawyer Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who appeared on behalf of the petitioner, has requested the bench to postpone the polls as the number of positive cases in the state is increasing despite measures. He also argued that the opinion of medical experts was missing from the reports submitted (before the bench) by the state government and the poll body on Covid-19.

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