calcutta high court

Calcutta High Court: In a writ petition revolving around allegations of non-compliance with Court orders by the State Election Commission related to the deployment of central forces for election security in West Bengal, leading to concerns about the integrity of the election process in West Bengal, a division bench comprising of T.S. Sivagnanam,* CJ., and Uday Kumar, J., issued Rule NISI under Rule 19 of the Calcutta High Court Contempt of Court Rules, 1975,

Brief Facts

The instant writ petition involves allegations of willful and deliberate violations of Court orders related to election preparations by the State Election Commissioner of West Bengal. The Court, through a series of orders, expressed its concerns about the State Election Commission’s lack of proactive actions, failure to comply with Court orders, and the delay in making arrangements for a free and fair election.

Chronology of Events and Key Orders:

  • Initial Orders (21.06.2023):

The Court expressed dissatisfaction with the State Election Commission’s compliance with Court orders. The Court ordered the requisition of sufficient Central Forces within 24 hours for deployment in all districts, with the number of companies not less than those deployed for the 2013 elections.

  • Concerns about Central Forces (23.06.2023):

The Court found the number of Central Forces requisitioned to be inadequate, given the increase in the number of districts since 2013. The Court emphasized the importance of an honest assessment by the State Election Commission.

  • Deployment Plan (06.07.2023):

The Court noted the necessity of safeguarding ballot boxes during transportation and counting. The Court ordered Central Forces to remain in West Bengal for ten days after the election results are declared to ensure post-election security.

  • Serious Allegations (12.07.2023):

The Court considered serious allegations made against the State Election Commission in a report by the Inspector General, BSF. The Court highlighted the need for a proper response to the allegations.

  • Hearing of Responses (26.07.2023):

The Court heard the responses filed by the State Election Commission and the State Government. The Court granted liberty to file exceptions to the responses.

  • Legal Considerations (05.09.2023):

The Court discussed the legal framework and Rule 19 of the Calcutta High Court Contempt of Court Rules, 1975. The Court emphasized the need for a precise and concrete response from the State Election Commission.

  • Final Submissions (11.10.2023):

The Court heard final submissions from the State Election Commission and the State Government.

Court’s Observations

The Court observed that the State Election Commission had not complied with the orders and directions issued by the Court in letter and spirit. The Court expressed its dissatisfaction with the State Election Commission’s actions and its reluctance to make independent decisions.

The Court had earlier reposed confidence in the State Election Commission and directed it to assess sensitive districts, but this direction was not followed. Consequently, the Court issued directions for the deployment of Central Forces for the entire state, a decision that was affirmed by the Supreme Court.

The State Election Commission delayed making the initial requisition for central forces until June 20, 2023, and it was noted that the number of forces requested was considered inadequate. The Court pointed out that the State Election Commission seemed to have feigned compliance with the court’s orders, deliberately making them unworkable.

The Court observed that the State Election Commission failed to identify sensitive polling booths and did not create a centralized deployment plan for the central forces. The Inspector General of BSF/Force Coordinator made efforts to coordinate with the State Election Commission, requesting information about sensitive polling booths. However, the State Election Commission’s response was non-cooperative.

Top of Form

The Court observed that the State Election Commission provided only the number of polling stations without specific names and locations, and it repeatedly requested the Ministry of Home Affairs for additional central forces. Moreover, the State Election Commission’s response to these allegations was vague, with denials lacking clarity.

The Court concluded that the State Election Commission’s inaction, combined with the lack of concrete steps and the delay in identifying sensitive areas from a law and order perspective, could result in violations of the Court’s orders and compromise the purity of the election process.

Court’s Decision

The Court held that there was a deliberate violation of its orders by the State Election Commission and decided to issue a Rule NISI under Rule 19 of the Calcutta High Court contempt of Court Rules, 1975.

However, the Court did not find sufficient grounds to issue a Rule NISI in another related contempt case, against the Chief Secretary, Home Secretary, and Director General and Inspector General of Police.

[Suvendu Adhikari v. State Election Commr., 2023 SCC OnLine Cal 3616, order dated 13-10-2023]

*Judgment by Chief Justice T.S. Sivagnanam

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Soumya Majumder, Mr. Srijib Chakraborty, Mr. Kabir Shankar Bose, Mr. Anish Kumar Mukherjee, Mr. Suryaneel Das, Mr. Amit Kumar Mishra, Mr. Chiranjit Pal, Mr. Lokenath Chatterjee, Mr. Sukanta Ghosh, Mr. Arghya Chatterjee, Mr. Mrityunjoy Chatterjee, Mr. Debapriya Majumder, Counsel for the Petitioners

Mr. P. S. Raman, Sr. Advocate Mr. Kishore Datta, Sr. Advocate, Mr. Jishnu Sinha, Sr. Advocate with Ms. Sonal Sinha, Mr. Avishek Prasad, Mr. Sayan Dutta, Counsel for the W.B. State Election Commission

Mr. Ashoke Kumar Chakrabarti, ASG, Mr. Billwadal Bhattacharyya, DSGI, with Mr. Ayanabha Raha, Mr. Tirtha Pati Acharya, Counsel for the Union of India.

Mr. Sirsanya Bandopadhyay, Mr. Piyush Agarwal, Mr. Arka Nag, Ms. Utsha Dasgupta, Ms. Shrivalli Kajaria, Ms. Riddhi Jain, Counsel for the State.

Mr. Bikram Banerjee, Mr. Sudipta Dasgupta, Mr. Sagar Dey, Counsel for the Intervenor in WPA(P) 287/2023

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