The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday refused to interfere with the schedule of the bypoll to the Bhabanipur constituency from where West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is contesting on September 30.
The court was delivering the verdict on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) which claimed that the Election Commission in a statement had noted that it had decided to hold by-election to Bhabanipur constituency “considering the constitutional exigency and special request from state of West Bengal”.
While the court gave its nod to the by-election, it took exception to the Chief Secretary’s letter to the ECI seeking to expedite the bypoll in view of administrative exigencies and to avoid a vacuum in the state.
“As the process of election was initiated with the issuance of press note dated September 04, 2021, and the polling has to be held on September 30, 2021, we do not find it appropriate to interfere with the decision of the Commission to hold by-election to Bhabanipur Assembly Constituency at this stage,” the order stated.
It added, “However, we record our strong reservation about the conduct of the Chief Secretary in writing a letter to the Election Commission stating that there would be ‘constitutional crisis’ in case by-election to the Bhabanipur Constituency is not held. He is a public servant, who is to discharge his duties in terms of provisions of law, whosoever may be in power. He is not to ensure that any particular person should come in power and in the absence there would be ‘constitutional crisis’.”
The court noted that in writing the letter, the CS “projected himself to be more of a servant of the political party in power than a public servant”.
Last week, the court pulled up the Election Commission and turned down the affidavit filed by the poll body on ‘prioritising’ the September 30 bypolls in the Bhabanipur assembly constituency.
The verdict has come as a big relief to the Trinamool Congress, which has accused the BJP of trying to stall the election.
The petitioner, Sayan Banerjee, meanwhile called the decision a victory. Speaking to News18, he said: “This is a win for us. We had not asked for stay order on Bhabanipur. We wanted to point out that the Chief Secretary was working on the behest of a political party. How can he do that? The Chief Secretary has not done the right thing and that has been clearly pointed out by court. In Bengal, bureaucrats too are working in this way. Being part of the executive, they cannot interfere in the legislature. I am a law-abiding person and it was my duty to bring this in front of people.”
The division bench will once again hear the case on November 17. Reacting to the verdict, TMC minister Chandrima Bhattacharya said: “We respect the decision of the court. Bhabanipur will definitely go for polls. BJP was scared and that’s why they did all this.”