Barely a couple of hours after Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Kesang Doma Bhutia of the Calcutta High Court on Tuesday allowed the hosting of the Gangasagar Mela, albeit with a new monitoring committee and strict Covid-deterring directions to the West Bengal government, the division bench, in a separate matter, gave indications that it was closely looking at the possibility of deferring the four civic body polls in the state.
The court directed the Bengal government and the state election commission to submit detailed reports in the form of affidavits on the general Covid situation in the municipal areas which are going for the polls.
The reports must be submitted by Thursday, January 13, which is when the court would hear the case next.
The developments took place on a day after the state recorded an all-time high positivity of 37.32% of Covid 19 infections with 19,286 fresh single-day cases and 16 deaths. In Kolkata, the single-day spike stood at 5,556 cases with a staggering 42.8% positivity rate. Adjacent Howrah registered 42.63% positivity.
Elections to municipal corporations in Bidhannagar (Salt Lake), Asansol, Siliguri and Chandannagar are slated for January 22 and the election commission has already clarified in court that it has no intention of revising that schedule.
The court directed the government to include in its report the number of infected patients, the number of containment zones it has enforced and measures taken to contain the spread in each of the four poll-bound regions.
To the EC, the Court asked to specify the percentage of pandemic-impacted zones in these municipal areas and state how many of them are Covid-free. It has also asked the EC to state what percentage of poll personnel that it plans to deploy are Covid-free and whether there are sufficient numbers of such personnel in requisite health conditions to carry out election duties.
Interestingly, the counsel representing the state poll body submitted, in response to a query from the bench during the course of Tuesday’s hearing, that it retains powers to defer elections based on its assessment of the pandemic situation and sought a day’s time to make that evaluation.
Arguing on behalf of the petitioner, advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya submitted that large parts of poll-bound areas are already declared as containment zones and holding elections would be improbable.
While the court had to maintain the sanctity of the Makar Sankranti date for Gangasagar Mela and hence couldn’t postpone it, there is no such binding on the civic body polls, he argued.
An official of the state election commission, on condition of anonymity, said that the body was as much worried about the safety of voters as it was about its poll personnel, especially those above 50 years of age.
“We have received many requests from our polling personnel to postpone the elections. But we cannot take that decision unilaterally unless the state government agrees,” he said.