The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday allowed the Bhabanipur bye-poll in West Bengal to be held on September 30 as scheduled, reported Live Law. The court refused to stay the decision of the Election Commission to conduct the bye-election on priority.
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 bye-poll at the Bhabanipur Assembly constituency in West Bengal, in which Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is among the candidates.
Banerjee needs to get elected as an MLA by the first week of November in order to continue as the chief minister.
The court will hear the petition next on November 9, when it will consider whether the public exchequer should bear the cost of the bye-election.
The bench, however, recorded adverse findings against the chief secretary of the West Bengal government. The official had written to the Election Commission seeking to expedite the bye-poll at Bhabanipur in order to avoid a vacuum in the state, according to Live Law.
Chief Secretary HK Dwiwedi had written in the letter that there would be a constitutional crisis if the election in the Bhabanipur constituency was not held immediately, News18 reported. Based on the letter, the poll panel had submitted a report to the High Court justifying its decision to hold the election on September 30.
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.
The Election Commission, while announcing the date of the Bhabanipur bye-election, said that it scheduled the election on that date considering the “constitutional exigency and special request” from the West Bengal government.
The commission had, however, postponed the bye-polls for 31 other Assembly constituencies in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Calcutta High Court, in a hearing on September 24, had asked if there was no constitutional exigency in the other constituencies, according to Live Law.
The court had refused to take an affidavit filed by the Election Commission on record. It had said that the affidavit was filed in an incorrect format, and did not make any specific statements about the issues raised in the petition.
“Nothing is mentioned in the affidavit, who filed it?” Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal had said. “We cannot take this on record.”
Earlier, the Election Commission had said that the petitioner was trying to mischaracterise the meaning of the term constitutional exigency. The poll panel said that there was no possibility of the term being construed as an influence on voters, PTI reported.
Votes for the Bhabanipur bye-election will be counted on October 3.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded lawyer Priyanka Tibrewal against Banerjee. The Congress has said it would not field a candidate against the chief minister.