The Calcutta High Court today asked the West Bengal government why it should not impose taxes for holding free, fair and peaceful elections in the state if it was suffering from a funds crunch.
"Why are taxes not imposed for holding elections if it has a fund crunch?" Justice Biswanath Somadder asked state Advocate General Bimal Chatterjee while hearing a petition by the State Election Commission against the state government over holding of the panchayat elections.
"Every day in the newspapers there is talk of new taxes, so why not taxes for holding elections?" Justice Somadder asked and directed the state to come up with a reply at a later date.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had yesterday announced imposition of new taxes to set up a Rs 500 crore relief fund for investors allegedly duped by the Saradha group.
When the AG submitted that it was common knowledge that the state had a resource crunch, Justice Somadder observed "if the resource or lack of resource can hinder holding of free, fair and peaceful elections, why not impose taxes on citizens as it is in their interest that free and fair elections are held."
Countering SEC counsel Samaraditya Pal's submission that 800 companies of central paramilitary forces were necessary for holding the panchayat elections in a free, fair and peaceful manner, Chatterjee stated "The state election commission should have taken into account the ground realities while asking for 800 companies of armed forces."
Asking why the SEC was seeking 800 companies and not more or less, the AG submitted that in correspondence with the state, the SEC could not give justification for the demand, but stuck to the figure of 800 companies claiming primacy.
He also submitted that the state government had already provided Rs 100 crore of the Rs 209 crore asked by the SEC for holding the panchayat elections in the state.
Earlier, concluding his argument for the SEC, Pal prayed that primacy of the commission be upheld and the court ensure that elections were held within the stipulated time.
Pal submitted that Section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Act was unconstitutional, but the only way it could be saved was if the court held that the SEC had primacy.
The term of the present elected panchayats in the state would expire in the first week of June.
Following notification of panchayat election by the state in two phases on April 26 and April 30, the SEC had moved the high court seeking cancellation of the dates and that Section 42 be declared ultra vires of the Constitution.
Section 42 of West Bengal Panchayat Act provides that the state government declare the panchayat elections in consultation with the SEC.