The Calcutta High Court on Thursday indirectly criticised the West Bengal government's decision yesterday to levy a 10 per cent tax on tobacco products to assuage the growing anger of agents and depositors of the Saradha group.
The court was hearing the case between the state election commission and the state government over the issue of notification of dates of panchayat elections, which were initially to be held at the end of May.
The government had announced that the polls would be held in two phases under the supervision of the state police. The commission proposed that the polls be held in three phases and central forces be deployed.
Subsequently, the election commission dragged the government to court over its decision. In court on Thursday, West Bengal advocate general Bimal Chatterjee argued the state election commission's claim that 800 companies of central paramilitary forces were necessary for holding elections wasn't based on ground reality.
"The state election commission should have taken into account the ground realities while asking for 800 companies of armed forces. Why 800 companies, it could be much better if 1,200 companies were deployed. But that costs money," Chatterjee commented.
To this, the sitting judge Biswanath Samaddar commented, "Nowadays, we often get to see news of new taxes being imposed regularly. If the government can go on levying taxes in this manner, what is stopping it from levying an 'Election Tax' to ensure that voters can exercise their right in a free and fair manner? After all, it is the voters who would pay the money to ensure their right."
The judge directed the state to come up with a reply at a later date.
The ongoing legal battle between between the state election commission and the Mamata Banerjee government has come as a boon in disguise for the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), as the panchayat election could be indefinitely postponed because of the court case.
And that is what the TMC wants, as its party functionaries are worried that the growing anger of the agents and depositors might seriously erode their otherwise solid rural vote bank.
"We have got a much needed breather; the election would not be held before November," a senior minister of the state government told Business Standard on the condition of anonymity.
The verdict of the panchayat case could be delivered around May-end. The monsoon sets in Bengal in the days after that, which would cause the polls to be postponed till after the winter harvest.
Even after the verdict is given, there is a strong possibility that the affected party would move the Supreme Court. Sujan Chakravorty and Rezzak Molla, both leaders of the opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist) agreed that the government would continue to delay the process and would not like to face the electorate now, fearing a voters' backlash.
Yesterday, Mamata Banerjee had announced the creation of a relief fund of Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion), with the imposition of a 'Tobacco Tax' to take care of the loss affecting the depositors of Saradha.