TMC raises pitch for holding by-polls in Bengal

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(Eds: Collating related stories) New Delhi/Kolkata, Jul 15 (PTI) The Trinamool Congress on Thursday raised the pitch for conducting by-polls to vacant assembly seats in West Bengal at the earliest, as a parliamentary party delegation met the Election Commission in Delhi with the demand, while party supremo Mamata Banerjee sought the same in Kolkata.

The TMC is keen on the bypolls as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who lost the Assembly election from Nandigram, will have to get elected in the next six months to continue as the chief minister. In that case, the bypolls must be conducted by November 5.

In a memorandum submitted to the poll body, the party stated that with the decreasing number of coronavirus cases in the state, conditions are conducive for conducting the bypolls with Covid appropriate protocols in place.

Banerjee told reporters in Kolkata that the EC had recently sought to know if Bengal was ready to conduct polls to two vacant Rajya Sabha seats, and the chief secretary, in his reply, gave assurance that the state could also hold bypolls to the seven assembly constituencies, while adhering to all COVID-19 guidelines.

'With the COVID-19 positivity rate having come down to 1.5 per cent in Bengal, the situation is conducive to conduct the by-elections as most of the poll-bound areas haven't reported any fresh infection of late,' she said.

A high-level TMC delegation comprising six MPs appealed to the poll panel to conduct bypolls in West Bengal at the earliest.

The six-member TMC delegation included MPs Derek O'Brien, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy and Sudip Bandyopadhyay.

'The number of COVID-19 cases is at least 17 times lower now with fewer than 831 cases reported till July 14.

There has been a steady decline in the number of daily cases recorded....

'Hence, it is conducive to hold the bye-polls to the aforementioned constituencies at this time. Going by the steady decline, it is expected that by the time the bye- elections are announced and conducted, the number of daily cases will decrease further. During this time, appropriate Covid safety norms as may be prescribed by the Election Commission of India (ECI), may be adopted during campaigning,' the party said in the memorandum.

In a jibe at the BJP, which claimed that Banerjee is desperately waiting for the bypolls as she needs to get elected to the Assembly to retain the CM's chair, the TMC boss said the saffron party is opposed to the demand as it knows well that it won't be able to clinch any seat.

'We have placed our demands before the EC following all constitutional norms. There is nothing illegal about it.

If an emergency situation arises, the EC will accordingly take a decision. But isn't COVID-19 under control in the seven seats now? Several wards of Bhabanipur haven't reported any case over the past few days' she said.

Banerjee is expected to file nomination from Bhabanipur, which was vacated by winning TMC candidate Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, days after the results were declared.

In its memorandum, the party also said that if general elections could be held at the height of the pandemic, bypolls too could be held at a time when cases were significantly lower.

In March-April 2021, wherein polls were conducted in eight phases spread across the month, there was a steep rise in daily Covid cases in West Bengal. From the middle of April 2021, at the peak of the elections, the daily cases rose from approximately 6,000 cases to 17,000 cases.

'Despite the rise in Covid cases and our repeated requests, the remaining phases of the polls were not clubbed together, as the ECI concluded that it was safe to conduct elections.

'Constitutional principles mandate that voters from the aforesaid assembly constituencies have the fundamental right to elect a representative of their choice to represent them in the Legislative Assembly of the State,' the memorandum stated.

Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay is slated to contest by- election from Khardah, which fell vacant after the TMC's Kajal Sinha succumbed to COVID-19.

In Gosaba too, TMC MLA Jayanta Naskar died of COVID- related complications last month.

Polls were countermanded in Jangipur and Samserganj following the death of candidates, also due to the viral disease.

In Dinhata and Santipur, the winning BJP nominees quit as MLAs as they wanted to retain parliamentary berths.

Two Rajya Sabha seats fell vacant in the state after Dinesh Trivedi quit the membership of the Upper House in February this year, having switched to the BJP from the TMC, and Manas Bhuniya's election as an MLA in the March-April Assembly polls. PTI ASG SUS RMS NN NN

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