In a huge relief to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress, the Calcutta High Court has refused to interfere into the date of the Bhabanipur by-election and subsequently allowed the polls in the Assembly constituency.
The court however, criticised the state’s Chief Secretary H.K. Diwedi for writing to the Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking to expedite the bypolls else it might lead to a constitutional crisis.
“We have dismissed the petition. Election will be held. But we have commented on the conduct of the Chief Secretary. It was not appropriate for him to have written such a letter,” Acting Chief Justice Bindal said while pronouncing the verdict.
The court passed the order in response to a public interest litigation filed by a man named Sayan Banerjee.
The petitioner had challenged the decision of the Election Commission to prioritise the by-polls in Bhabanipur, where Banerjee is among the candidates.
Acting Chief Justice Bindal and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj, however, recorded adverse findings against the Chief Secretary.
The official had written to the Election Commission seeking to expedite the by-poll at Bhabanipur in order to avoid a vacuum in the state.
“The court has allowed the election but has taken exception to the remarks of the Chief Secretary because being a public servant he was trying to secure the personal interest of an individual,” an advocate appearing for the petitioner said.
The controversy regarding the announcement of the polls in Bhabanipur arose when the Commission in their notification mentioned that the by-election is being treated as a special case because of the request from the state government.
Quoting Diwedi, the Commission said in a notification: “He (Chief Secretary) a cited that under Article 164(4) of the Constitution of India, a Minister who is not a member of the Legislature of the State for a period of six consecutive months shall at the expiration of that period cease to be a Minister and there will be a constitutional crisis and vacuum in the top executive posts in the Government unless elections are held immediately. He has also informed that in view of administrative exigencies and public interest and to avoid vacuum in the state, bye-elections for 159- Bhabanipur, Kolkata from where Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister intends to contest elections may be conducted.
“Taking into consideration the inputs and views of the Chief Secretaries Concerned States and respective Chief Electoral Officers, while the Commission has decided not to hold bye-elections in other 31 Assembly Constituencies and 3 Parliamentary Constituencies and considering the constitutional exigency and special request from state of West Bengal, it has d to hold bye-election in 159- Bhabanipur AC.”
In the West Bengal Assembly elections held earlier this year, Banerjee had contested from the Nandigram seat in an apparent bid to challenge Suvendu Adhikari, who had defected to the BJP ahead of the polls.
Banerjee had lost to Adhikari by a margin of 1,956 votes, though she alleged fraud in vote counting.
During hearing the case the court had earlier observed: “Some people contest elections and win and then they resign for various reasons. Now someone is resigning to give a chance to win from the seat again. Now who will bear the cost of this election? Why will tax-payers money be spent for this election?”
The bench will hear on November 9 the second issue whether the public should bear costs of by-elections, which was necessitated by the resignation of the elected candidate to facilitate the Banerjee’s election.