Election Commission blows bugle for Bengal bypolls

Kolkata :
The Election Commission has finally given an initial nod to Trinamool Congress demand for conducting bypolls in several Assembly constituencies which have been lying vacant either due to resignation or death of the existing MLAs.

In a letter written to the district election officers (DEOs) of five districts, the chief electoral officer (CEO) of the state has asked them to arrange for first-hand testing for EVMs and VVPATs.

In the letter written to the DEOs of five districts, including Kolkata, North and South 24 Parganas, Nadia and Cooch Behar dated July 16, CEO Ariz Aftab instructed them to conduct the first level checking (FLC) of all the EVMs and VVPATs following the standard protocols laid down by the Election Commission.

Aftab maintained that during the FLC, all the standard protocols like ‘sanitisation, social distancing and face covering’ should be followed.

According to the schedule announced by the poll panel, the FLC will start on August 3 and will have to be completed by August 6. As per the EC schedule, there are 3,414 EVMs and equal number of VVPATs in total and altogether 62 engineers will have to be deployed for the checking.

When asked about process, a senior EC official said, “We cannot tell anything about the dates because that will be decided by the Commission, but it is certain that the poll panel is preparing for the bypolls and the FLC is the first step towards that. There are many other factors that need to be considered before the announcement of the final dates.”

The poll panel’s directives come a couple of days after a six-member Trinamool Congress parliamentary party delegation met the Election Commission on Thursday and urged it to conduct the bypolls in six vacant Assembly seats at the earliest.

In a memorandum submitted to the poll panel, the party stated that with the decreasing number of Coronavirus cases in the state, the conditions are conducive for conducting the bypolls with appropriate Covid protocols in place.

The by-elections are of critical importance to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who lost the Assembly poll to BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram.

The Constitution allows a person to occupy a ministerial position only up to six months without getting elected to a state legislature or the two Houses of the Parliament. It mandates that a minister who is not a member of the legislature for six consecutive months shall cease to occupy the position at the expiration of that period.

So it is inevitable that Banerjee gets elected to the Assembly by November 4 to continue as the Chief Minister of West Bengal.

When asked about the bypolls, Banerjee said, “The Election Commission has asked us about the elections for two Rajya Sabha seats, but it didn’t ask anything about the Assembly seats. We have informed that we are prepared enough to conduct elections for both Rajya Sabha and Assembly seats that are lying vacant.”

The Dinhata and Santipur Assembly seats fell vacant after BJP leaders Nisith Pramanik and Jagannath Sarkar resigned as MLAs and chose to retain their membership of the Parliament.

Banerjee’s pocket borough of Bhawanipore also fell vacant after state minister Sovandeb Chattopadhyay resigned to facilitate her election from the seat.

By-elections to Khardah and Gosaba seats in North and South 24 Parganas, respectively, have been necessitated by the deaths of Trinamool MLAs Kajal Sinha and Jayanta Naskar, who had succumbed to Covid-19.

However, the Commission didn’t mention anything about two Assembly constituencies — Samserganj and Jangipur in Murshidabad.

The seats fell vacant after the death of the candidates during the Assembly elections held earlier this year. The polls were later postponed indefinitely as the second wave of Covid-19 raged across the state.

Currently, Banerjee and Finance Minister Amit Mitra are the two non-legislators in the ministry. While Mitra has expressed his desire to step down due to ill health, Banerjee needs to win a by-election to enter the state Assembly.