Nominations filed on Whatsapp are acceptable: Kolkata High Court to Bhangar Committee

Written by Sabrangindia Staff | Published on: April 24, 2018
At least one person was killed and many were wounded in violence in several parts of West Bengal on Monday, April 23, the last day for filing nomination papers for the upcoming Panchayat elections in the states. Opposition parties have alleged that the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) government has unleashed "a reign of terror to prevent opposition candidates from filing nomination papers". However, today, as the Save land Committee from Bhangar reported the entire incident in High Court, the court passed an unprecedented judgment directing the Election Commissionto accept all the nominations sent on whatsapp. Activists perceive this as a moral victory as the court has said that under no conditions can these nominations be cancelled during the scrutiny on April 25.
 
 
On Monday, April 23, members of the Committee moved the High Court, notifying it that none of their 11 committee members had been able to file their nominations because the BDO and SDO officers were being controlled by armed TMC goons. Justice Subrata Talukdar asked Nilanjan Sandila, the State Election Commission officer, to immediately verify the true status of the nominations. Sandila confirmed that just 16 nomination papers had been filed from Polerhat-2 Panchayat, all of them from the ruling TMC party, and that no new nominations had been filed on Monday by that point in time. The judge directed the Election Commission to make sure all 11 Committee candidates could file their nominations, telling the commission to postpone the deadline if needed. He also asked the Committee members to file their nomination papers at Alipur’s Additional District Magistrate’s (ADM) office. 
 
However, when the Committee member went to Alipur, they were informed that the ADM was not at the office, and that they would have to wait for him. The Committee members have alleged that armed TMC members and supporters forced them out of the office, assaulted them, and tore up their nomination papers. Allegedly, two women candidates–Chhanoara and Jahanara Bibi–along with Sharmistha Choudhury, one of the movement’s leaders, were taken away and imprisoned for more than an hour, with their hands tied. They were allegedly tortured by the goons, and the police present at the ADM’s office reportedly made no effort to rescue them. Following their release, Choudhury and other Committee members filed an FIR at the Alipur police station. Also, in all the chaos the committee was able to file nominations to BDO on whatsapp.
 
 
Earlier this month, on April 6, Amitava Bhattacharya, Shankar Das, and Biswajit Hazra, three activists who are part of the Bhangar Movement, went to file their nominations for the Panchayat elections. Das is one of the conveners of the Bhangar Solidarity Committee, while the other two belong to the Committee for the Protection of Land, Livelihood and Environment’ of the Bhangar Movement. The Committee had decided to contest the elections in 14 villages, both of South 21 Paragana and North 21 Paragana to bolster their anti-land grab movement. However, when the three activists went to file their nominations, they were allegedly beaten by TMC goons at the BDO office, while the police simply stood by. Egregiously, the activists–not the goons–were then arrested, and remain in jail, with multiple false and fabricated charges against them. 
 
On April 8, too, according to Bhangar Movement activists, TMC goons attacked villagers and torched the Committee’s office, and bombed and fired randomly to create an atmosphere of terror. "These repressive tactics are being used to crush the anti-land grab movement of Bhangar, so that corporates’ plans of establishing power grids can be facilitated without any opposition. The goons wanted to ensure that no nominations are filed by the villagers," said Priyasmita, a student activist associated with the movement. 
 
On April 12, the Calcutta High Court had suspended the election process after the Committee alleged that the ruling TMC party had prevented their candidates from filing nominations. Other opposition parties had also filed similar complaints that were all put together for the hearing. On April 20, the court ordered the State Election Commission to schedule new dates for candidates who had previously not been able to file their nomination papers. 
 
The Bhangar Movement was mounted in 2016 to oppose the alleged land grab by the Power Grid Corporation of India, a public sector unit, to establish a power grid. In 2017, the movement faced severe repression, with activists being lathi-charged by the government during a demonstration, and then many being booked under false cases. Activists are of the opinion that as the movement exerts more pressure against the construction of the grid, state repression also increases. 
 
Last week, on April 19, the Bhangar Andolan Samhati Committee took out a rally in Kolkata to demand the unconditional release of four of its activists who remain incarcerated still. The Committee reportedly said that the four had “false cases” registered against them.