Even before polls, Bengal’s ruling party wins 3 civic bodies

A Trinamul Congress election banner near State Election Commission office on Rawdon Street in Kolkata. Civic polls in Kolkata is slated for 18 April; in another 91 civic  bodies in Bengal the polls are to take place on 25 April
A Trinamul Congress election banner near State Election Commission office on Rawdon Street in Kolkata. Civic polls in Kolkata is slated for 18 April; in another 91 civic bodies in Bengal the polls are to take place on 25 April.

By bappaditya paul

EVEN BEFORE THE ELECTIONS ON 25 APRIL, West Bengal’s ruling party the Trinamul Congress on Saturday won majority in three of the 91 poll-bound civic bodies in the state as rival candidates withdrew their nominations after “being threatened by the ruling party.”

Saturday was the last day for withdrawal of nominations.

At Arambagh in Hooghly, the Trinamul has won uncontested in 16 of the 19 seats, at Tarakeswar in the same district it has got walkover in 10 of the 15 seats and at Gayeshpur in Nadia it has pocketed 17 of the 18 seats. 

Bengal’s State Election Commission (SEC), however, said that till Saturday evening  it had confirmation only about Arambagh; reports for Tarakeswar and Gayeshpur were awaited.

This on a day when during an all-party meet that it had convened, the SEC had to   face a barrage of allegations about Trinamul Congress atrocities on Opposition party cadres and a corresponding police inaction.

File photo
File photo

The Opposition parties rejected the Trinamul’s proposal for extending the voting hours mainly over which the SEC had convened the meeting. The Opposition said that this would only give additional time to the Trinamul “to rig the polls.”  

The events of the day made the state election commissioner S R Upadhaya to send an urgent communiqué to all the district magistrates instructing them to ensure that workers or candidates of no political parties are intimidated and that the police should act fast on genuine complaints.

As regards the Trinamul’s demand for extending the voting period by two hours to 5 p.m. instead of the notified 3 p.m., Mr Upadhaya said that going by the West Bengal Municipal Elections Act 1994, “it is now difficult to extend the voting hours as there is no provision in law to modify an already notified timing.” 

West Bengal state election commissioner S R Upadhaya
West Bengal state election commissioner S R Upadhaya

CPI-M leader Robin Deb and BJP leader Prabhakar Tiwari alleged in the all-party meet that in several municipalities, their candidates had been forced by the Trinamul Congress to withdraw nominations and that their cadres were being attacked by the ruling party but the police were declining to register complaints.

They named Arambagh, Rishra, Seerampore, Konnagar, Bhatpara and North Dum Dum in particular.

The Opposition leaders demanded that the SEC should immediately bring in Central force and press them into area domination exercise in sensitive areas.  

1,070 candidates in fray for Kolkata civic polls

Kolkata Municipal Corporation headquarters on SN Banerjee Road.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation headquarters on SN Banerjee Road.

WITH THE LAST DAY for withdrawal of nominations being over, 1,070 candidates have remained in the fray for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls on 18 April.  

The candidates include, 144 from the Trinamul Congress, 142 from BJP, 143 from Congress, 10 from BSP, 105 from CPI-M, 14 from CPI, 11 from Forward Bloc, 10 from RSP and one from RJD. There are 483 Independents as well. 

The number of civic constituencies that these 1,070 candidates are contesting for in the KMC is 144. 

Filing of nomination for KMC polls had begun on 16 March and the last day was 23 March. After the scrutiny on 24 March, 1,080 nominations were found valid of whom 10 candidates pulled out from the contest by the last day of withdrawal on 26 March.

The state poll panel has convened an all-party meet at 12 noon on Saturday to discuss the Trinamul Congress’ demand for extending poll hours and some other issues relating to the civic polls.  

Trinamul ministers violate model code at poll panel door

MINISTERS, MAYOR COMMUTE IN GOVT CARS TO POLL PANEL OFFICE FOR PARTY’S PURPOSE

Trinamul Congress flag
Trinamul Congress flag

By bappaditya paul

BENGAL’S RULING PARTY the Trinamul Congress landed in a soup on Thursday after some senior ministers of the state Cabinet used government cars fitted with red beacon to commute to the State Election Commission (SEC) in violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) that is in force for the civic polls.

Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee and education minister Partha Chatterjee were part of two separate Trinamul delegations that went to the SEC today to demand the extension of voting hours and relaxation in MCC to facilitate commissioning of public projects in rural areas. Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee also used his official car.   

IMG_20150326_182203_1427396637773

The notified voting hours, for the KMC polls on 18 April and the elections in another 91 civic bodies on 25 April, is 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Trinamul wants this to be extended until 5 pm so that voters can exercise their franchise without haste. The poll panel has convened an all-party meeting on Saturday to discuss the demand.

While Mr Mukherjee, along with his Cabinet colleague Aroop Biswas, the Mayor, Trinamul MPs Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Hazi Nurul, MLA Swarnakamal Saha and others met the state poll panel chief in the morning; Mr Chatterjee went in the afternoon.

Following this, the Left was quick to complain that the ministers and the Mayor had violated MCC by using government vehicles to commute to the SEC for party’s purpose.

Bengal Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee
Bengal Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee

“We have complained to the state election commissioner and has sought to know whether this is not a blatant violation of MCC by ministers,” CPI-M leader Robin Deb told reporters after meeting the poll panel chief Thursday afternoon.

The Panchayat minister however, declined that he had commuted in a government car. “My official car was parked outside the SEC office for some other reason and I did not commute in it while visiting the SEC. Besides its red beacon was also put off,” Mr Mukherjee said over the phone in the evening.

“Let them show video clippings wherein I am seen travelling to the SEC in my official car.”

State election commissioner S R Upadhaya, on the other hand, said that the Left has not lodged any written complain. “They have complained verbally but unless it is in writing, how could we act?” he asked.

West Bengal State Election Commission office on Rawdon Street in Kolkata.
West Bengal State Election Commission office on Rawdon Street in Kolkata.

Mr Upadhaya clarified that Section VII (i) (a) and (b) of the MCC prohibits the use of official cars for party’s purpose by ministers or a Mayor.

“Section (b) in particular, stipulates that: Any official vehicle on duty including municipal vehicle, machinery and personnel shall not be used for furtherance of the interest of the party in power; this restriction will apply to Central government or state government ministers also,” he said.   

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 27 March 2015.)

Bengal relents on Central force for civic polls

A Central force contingent during a route march.
A Central force contingent during a route march.

AFTER MUCH DILLYDALLYING for over a fortnight, West Bengal government has finally relented on the State Election Commission’s (SEC) recommendation for deployment of Central force during the forthcoming civic polls in Bengal.

Sending a communiqué to the SEC, Bengal home secretary Basudev Banerjee has stated that the state government agrees to the poll panel’s proposal for deployment of Central force during the civic polls and the matter was being taken up with the Union government.

The letter was faxed to the SEC office late on Wednesday evening but the poll panel chief Mr Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya could chance upon it only on Thursday.

The development comes close on the heels of Mr Upadhaya seeking Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi’s intervention on the matter by meeting him at Raj Bhavan on 21 March.

Mr Upadhaya had called on the Governor following a lack of response from the state on its requisition for 50 companies of Central force for the KMC polls on 18 April and the elections in another 91 civic bodies on 25 April.  

This however, does not guarantee the deployment of Central troops during the civic polls. After the state sending a requisition to the Centre, it would entirely rest with the latter to decide whether to grant the Central force and if yes, then what should be the number.

Reacting to the state’s gesture, Mr Upadhaya said on Thursday evening: “it is good that the state government has obliged,” but he would rather wait to see how many companies of Central force is finally made available.

Bengal civic poll nomination ends

Filing of nomination for the 25 April polls in 91 civic bodies in West Bengal ended on Wednesday afternoon. The West Bengal State Election Commission said that a few thousand poll aspirants cutting across party lines have submitted nominations, but the exact number could be ascertained only on Thursday when it is able to compile the figures received from the districts.The nomination papers will be scrutinised on Thursday and the last day to withdraw candidature is 28 March. In photo. a Trinamul Congress poll graffiti near Kamalgaji on the southern fringes of Kolkata.
Filing of nomination for the 25 April polls in 91 civic bodies in West Bengal ended on Wednesday afternoon. The West Bengal State Election Commission said that a few thousand poll aspirants cutting across party lines have submitted nominations, but the exact number could be ascertained only on Thursday when it is able to compile the figures received from the districts.The nomination papers will be scrutinised on Thursday and the last day to withdraw candidature is 28 March. In photo. a Trinamul Congress poll graffiti near Kamalgaji on the southern fringes of Kolkata.

Bengal poll panel seeks Guv’s intervention for Central force in civic polls

Bengal State Election Commission office on Rawdon Street in Kolkata.
Bengal State Election Commission office on Rawdon Street in Kolkata.

By bappaditya paul   

The West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) has sought the Governor’s intervention for deployment of Central force during the forthcoming civic polls in the state.

According to Raj Bhavan sources, state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya called on Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi last Saturday (21 March) and spoke to him for about half-an-hour.

The move follows the state government’s cold response to SEC’s 12 March requisition for 50 companies of Central troops for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls on 18 April and the elections in another 91 civic bodies on 25 April.

Bengal State Election Commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay
Bengal State Election Commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay

Mr Upadhaya today confirmed that he did meet the Governor. “Yes, I did call on the Governor on Saturday and apprised him of the need for Central troops during the civic polls. I have briefed him on all the communications that we have had till then with the state government over the matter,” he said on Monday evening, adding that the Governor had jotted down the necessary details.

The meeting could be a precursor to the state poll panel finally moving the Calcutta High Court for deployment of Central forces during the civic polls if the state does not concede to its recommendation by this weekend.

Ms Mira Pande
Ms Mira Pande

In 2013, the previous election commissioner Mira Pande had moved the Calcutta High Court and then the Supreme Court on the same issue after having briefed the then Governor M K Narayanan. The apex court had on that occasion ruled in favour of deploying Central troops during the panchayat polls in Bengal.

There are 1,516 polling premises housing 4,704 polling booths in KMC area; in the rest 91 poll-bound civic bodies, the number of polling premises is 3,951 with the number of polling booths being 8,756. The SEC wants to deploy Central forces in all the polling premises in addition to for area domination and route march to “boost the confidence of voters and ensure a free and fair elections”.Central forceThe poll panel is worried that with the BJP getting stronger in Bengal, there were chances of a face off with the ruling Trinamul Congress during the polls.

The CPI-M state secretary Dr Surjya Kanta Mishra had also cautioned on 18 March that the forthcoming civic polls in the state would see “massive bloodshed” as the “Left workers would put up a stiff resistance to Trinamul atrocities”.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 25 March 2015.)

Kolkata civic poll nomination ends, scrutiny Tuesday

Election vehicles

FILING OF NOMINATION for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) elections 2015 ended today with over 800 nominations filed for the 144 civic seats in the city. 

Scrutiny of the nomination papers will take place on Tuesday.

The 800 odd nominations, however, is a provisional figure as the South 24-Parganas district administration, which is in charge of KMC polls, was compiling all the nomination papers till late into Monday evening. 

An aspiring candidate usually files more than one nomination paper, as on most occasions, nomination papers get cancelled due to technical or procedural errors.

Nominees from all major political parties such as the Trinamul Congress, CPI-M, CPI, Forward Bloc, RSP, Suci, BJP, Congress, BSP, CPI-ML (Liberation), Samajwadi Party and some independents have filed papers to contest the KMC polls.

Filing of nomination had begun on 16 March. The last day to withdraw candidature is 26 March. The polls are scheduled for 18 April, between 7 am and 3 pm.

Aadhar-Voter ID Card linking not mandatory, clarifies Chief Election Commissioner

Chief Election Commissioner H S Brahma
Chief Election Commissioner H S Brahma

By bappaditya paul

The linking of Aadhar number with voter identity card that the Election Commission of India (EC) has initiated, is desirable but not compulsory, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Mr H S Brahma clarified in Kolkata today.

Mr Brahma also said that the EC was considering modalities to deregister such political parties that do not contest polls for a prolonged period and that the probe that the poll panel had recently ordered into the alleged dubious donations to Trinamul Congress by private firm Trinetra Consultants was “a routine thing.”

The CEC was speaking at the 11th National Conference of the National Election Watch in Kolkata this morning. The conference, being held at the Ramkrishna Mission Institute of Culture in Golpark, will continue tomorrow. National Election Watch

“We have undertaken a drive through out the country to seed Aadhar numbers of individuals with their Electronic Photo Identity Cards (EPIC) by August 2015. If this happens, there will be no bogus or duplicate voters in our voter list and India will become the only country in the world where all voters will have biometric verification,” Mr Brahma said.

He later clarified to newsmen that the linking of one’s Aadhar number with the voter card was not compulsory. This means no voter whose name features in a voter list will be barred from voting just because he or she had not linked the Aadhar number with voter card. Aadhar Card“Duplicate (multiple) entry of names in the voter list is a crime and is punishable by one year of imprisonment. Hence, it will be good for every Indian citizen to seed Aadhar number with EPIC. Though it is not compulsory, we appeal to all to do this to avoid duplicity of names,” Mr Brahma said. He claimed that already lakhs of voters were themselves “seeding their names” everyday on the special web portal that the EC has launched for the purpose.

The CEC said that while 85 crores Indians already have Aadhar cards, the remaining ones were likely to get it by August and hence linking it with voter identity card by then was very much possible.

In another significant announcement, Mr Brahma said that the EC was “seriously considering” to introduce modalities to deregister the political parties that do not contest polls for a prolonged period and is in existence to mint other benefits such as tax exemptions etc. Political Parties Collage“There are some 1,600 registered parties in the country of which less than only 200 contest the polls ~ be it Lok Sabha, Assembly or local body polls. Hence, we are very seriously thinking that if a party do not contest any elections for five years or 10 years, it’s registration will suo moto get cancelled,” he said. “The criteria (to remain registered) could be contesting two Assembly elections and one Parliamentary elections in 10 years. But we are yet to finalise this.”

Mr Brahma said that there was instances where several registered political parties have never participated even in a single municipal or panchayat election. Doing away with bogus political parties was an important part of the electoral reforms, he said.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 22 March 2015.)

Bengal civic polls: State sits on poll observers list

By bappaditya paul

West Bengal government is yet to provide the State Election Commission (SEC) a list of senior officers who could be deployed as poll observers during the forthcoming civic elections in the state even as the nomination process for Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls began Tuesday.

Bengal state headquarters Nabanna
Bengal state headquarters Nabanna

Sources at the state poll panel said that they had written to the state government over a month ago asking for a list of 170 officers in the rank of joint secretary and above, but was yet to get a response.

The West Bengal Municipal Elections Rules stipulate that the poll observers should be present in their assigned municipal constituencies one or two days before the last day of filing nominations. While for KMC polls, the last day for nomination is 23 March; 30 March is the likely nomination deadline for another 91 civic bodies where the polls are tentatively scheduled for 25 April.

Bengal State Election Commission office on Rawdon Street in Kolkata.
Bengal State Election Commission office on Rawdon Street in Kolkata.

“The moment it became clear that the civic polls would be held in April, we immediately wrote to the state personnel and administrative reforms (PAR) department on 5 February asking for the list of officers. This is because we need time to assess the suitability of each and every officer before deploying them as poll observers,” said a senior official at the SEC.

Upon receiving the list and completing the suitability assessment, the poll panel is required to detail the officers on their role and functions as poll observers and only then they could be assigned to specific municipal constituencies. But with the state government sitting over the matter, the poll panel is wary about completing the process well in time.

Bengal State Election Commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay
Bengal State Election Commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay

The State Election Commissioner Mr Susanta Ranjan Upadhaya said this afternoon that they were now planning to take up the matter “at the higher level in the government.”

Asked why they were not sending the list of officers to the poll panel, state PAR secretary Manoj Agarwal maintained that they have already provided a list of eight IAS officers and the remaining ones were being processed. Interestingly, the SEC has sought 30 observers for the KMC polls alone.

“In all, the Commission has asked for over a hundred officers but we also need to man the regular administrative functions. Notwithstanding the constraints, we are processing the matter and the list of officers will be provided to them soon,” Mr Agarwal said.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 18 March 2015.)

Pvt investors cold to Howrah, Sealdah Railway lounge project

By bappaditya paul

The Railways’ plan to set up airport-styled executive lounges for passengers at Howrah and Sealdah railway stations in public-private-partnership (PPP) has hit a stumbling block due to a lukewarm response from private investors. Howrah StationThe Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), which had last October floated tenders inviting bids from private firms to develop and operate the proposed executive lounges for five-years said that while only one firm had bid for the lounge at Howrah; there was no bidder for the one proposed at Sealdah.

IRCTC officials say that private investors are shying away from the lounge project mainly because of the five-year contract period that the Railways’ have stipulated.

The proposed lounges, with an average capacity to seat 50 passengers at a time, are to be equipped with television, air-conditioner, room heater, wifi, washrooms with shower facility and a dedicated food-beverage supply mechanism. A passenger, while waiting for her train, can use the lounge for a charge. IRCTCEastern Railway authorities identified the sites for the proposed lounges ~ near Platform No 12 at Howrah and at the existing second class waiting room on Sealdah station building’s first floor. The initial target was to commission the lounges by mid 2015 but a lukewarm response from private investors has pushed the project to a limbo.

“Prospective investors are finding the five-year contract period too short a time to recover the money that they will be investing in developing the lounge and make a reasonable profit,” said Mr Subrata Banerjee, the deputy general manager (licensing) of IRCTC east zone in Kolkata. “The scenario is same as regards the other executive lounge projects planned at the railway stations in Visakhapatnam, Patna, Guwahati etc and our corporate headquarters has taken up the matter with the Railway Board.”   Sealdah StationTo attract private investors, IRCTC wants the Railway Board to revisit the contract period and extend the tenure by a few years, even if on a case-to-case basis. “I am not aware of any decision on this by the Railway Board as the matter is being handled by our corporate headquarters. All I can say for now is that the tenders for the executive lounges are under process,” Mr Banerjee said.

At present, the New Delhi Railway station has an executive lounge for passengers, functional for nearly three years now.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 18 February 2015.)

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