Kolkata: In a jolt to Bengal BJP leader and Nandigram MLA Suvendu Adhikari and his family, Calcutta High Court today decided not to intervene in the counting of votes for Kanthi (Contai) Municipality following the recent statewide municipal elections, though it added that the outcome of the counting may affect this decision. The BJP had earlier approached the court with a plea to countermand the vote counting process, claiming that voting for the municipality had not been free and fair.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Srivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj has instructed the State Election Commission (SEC) to gather and preserve CCTV footage from voting booths, though the court will not immediately intervene in the counting process.
With the election results scheduled to be declared tomorrow, the division bench made it known that should the result in Kanthi, as well as supporting evidence, validate the petitioner’s plea, the court may consider declaring the result invalid. Simultaneously, the court has asked the SEC to submit a report on the alleged unrest during the voting process in Kanthi.
The Calcutta High Court directive follows the filing of a public interest litigation (PIL) by Suvendu’s brother Soumyendu Adhikari, whose counsel Paramjit Patowali appealed for a re-poll in Kanthi under the supervision of Central security forces, since voting had not been free and fair. Kanthi has been a long-time stronghold of the Adhikari family, with Suvendu’s father Sisir Adhikari having represented the constituency as a Member of Parliament from 2009-21.
Patowali also claimed that of the 97 CCTV cameras installed for the Kanthi municipal elections, 91 had been deliberately damaged, and many of them did not work on polling day. A demand has arisen to have the cameras audited by an impartial agency, and there have been allegations of rampant booth grabbing and false voting, Patowali added. Given these circumstances, he reiterated his plea that the court cancel the counting process.
Appearing for the SEC, advocate Jayanta Mitra said they required more time to study the various allegations. “We had appointed IAS officers as observers. It is only once they submit their reports that we can say more on the matter,” he said. The SEC is expected to involve the National Election Commission in the audit of the CCTV cameras.
State Advocate General Soumendranath Mukhopadhyay too, requested for more time from the court. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 11.