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Elections cannot be a license for violence, the Supreme Court said, dismissing Bengal’s plea

New Delhi:

Elections cannot be a license for violence, the Supreme Court said today as it dismissed the Mamata Banerjee government’s petition challenging the deployment of central forces in Bengal for the July 8 local body polls.

“We appreciate that you have a democratic setup for elections from top to bottom, but the elections cannot be followed by violence,” said the Supreme Court, in sharp comments to the Bengal government, which had challenged a Calcutta High Court order directing the deployment of central forces in the state.

“The tenor of the High Court order is to ensure free and fair elections,” the Supreme Court said.

“We find that the order of the High Court does not call for any interference. The petition stands dismissed,” said a bench of Justice BV Nagarathna and Justice Manoj Misra.

The Bengal government and the State Election Commission had challenged the Calcutta High Court’s order directing central forces for security during the Panchayat polls.

The order come as a huge blow to the Bengal government, which had vehemently opposed the deployment of central forces “for every district, whether sensitive or not, as if the state is not equipped to handle this”.

Justice BV Nagarathana pointed out that the state government had earlier said it didn’t have enough policemen and had requested other states to send personnel. “Now High Court has seen this. Expense will have to be borne by Centre only. 75,000 booths have to be established and you have said due to the inadequacy of the police force you have yourself requisitioned,” he said.

The Bengal government said there was “no admission of the fact that the state’s police force was not ready to handle” the polls.

Representing the Mamata Banerjee government, lawyer Siddharth Aggarwal said: “The entire High Court order is based on the fact that the State Election Commission is not working and there is inaction, and now it is being made that the entire state is a cauldron and central forces will be across the state. From the date of filing of nominations to today, an assessment of every single police station was made and submitted to the State Election Commission and troubled areas were identified. 98% of the state was peaceful.”

Justice Nagarathana responded: “Holding elections cannot be a license for violence and High Court has seen earlier instances of violence. Elections cannot be accompanied by violence. If persons are not able to file their nominations and if they are finished off while they are going to file it, then where is the free and fair election?”

The Supreme Court judge also said the State Election Commission couldn’t have any objections to the High Court order for central forces.

“Ultimately the State Election Commission is responsible for holding elections. How are you aggrieved by this order of the High Court? You had requested for the deployment of forces to the state government?” the Supreme Court said to the state poll body.

“Considering the past violence in the State, the High Court took up the case and passed certain directions to aid you to discharge your responsibilities.”

In the run-up to the Panchayat election, there have been clashes in various parts of Bengal. The results will be announced on July 11.

The polls will pit the ruling Trinamool Congress against the BJP in a key electoral test ahead of the 2024 national election.

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