While the Darjeeling district Left Front is all set to lead a march to the Siliguri Municipal Corporation (SMC) to press for its demand for immediate elections to the civic body, former Siliguri mayor and senior CPI-M leader Asok Bhattacharya has demanded the removal of the present Trinamul Congress-led board of administrators (BoA).
The state government has appointed a four-member BoA in the SMC led by Gautam Deb as its chairperson “to handle and contain the grave situation due to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic” in May.
According to the district Left Front convener, Jibesh Sarkar, they will organise the march on 17 August, demanding immediate civic body polls that are due for more than a year now. Mr Sarkar criticized the “nepotism and narrow partisan politics” of the civic body when it came to Covid-19 vaccination.
Mr Bhattacharya said the nominated BoA had already completed its one-year term, but that the state government had not bothered to holding the elections. The civic body elections in Siliguri could not be held last year in view of the coronavirus pandemic, and the state government had appointed a seven-member BoA, nominating the then immediate past-mayor Mr Bhattacharya as a chairperson. Mr Bhattacharya, however, stepped down from the post to contest the Assembly elections in Siliguri on 17 March this year.
The principal secretary of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, Surendra Gupta, was then made the administrator of the civic body on 22 March after the Election Commission ordered the removal of political appointees as chairpersons of boards of administrators. Sources, however, said that with the West Bengal Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the government could extend the tenure of the administrators in civic bodies from six to 18 months.
“We are demanding the removal of the present BoA run by political persons. I challenge that the board which is functioning now has no legal base. The state government can appoint senior administrative officers to lead the board. There should be immediate polls to both the SMC and the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad. We will explore legal options if this continues,” Mr Bhattacharya said.
Mr Sarkar said that when chief minister Mamata Banerjee was stressing on by-elections, “why cannot elections to local bodies which are due be held?” “The elections in 112 civic bodies are due for more than a year. The elections could not be held in view of the pandemic last year but after the Assembly elections, Miss Banerjee is demanding byelections. The by-elections should be held, but also the civic body polls,” Mr Sarkar added.
Mr Sarkar said that in the name of combating Covid-19, Trinamul Congress leaders of the BoA were engineering defections. According to Mr Bhattacharya, the Centre should be blamed for the inadequate supply of Covid vaccines, but that the state government was not properly utilizing whatever amount they were getting.
He said if necessary, they would stage a gherao at the SMC. Trinamul Congress leaders, on the other hand, said they do not give any importance to the Left charges. “They can organise a march, we have no problems. We do not need their sermon on any issue,” said a member of the BoA and the district Trinamul Congress (Plains) president, Ranjan Sarkar.