Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court on Friday refused to stay the scheduled election of West Bengal minister Firhad Hakim as the mayor of the city.
Hakim has been chosen as the mayor designate of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) by councillors of the ruling Trinamool Congress following Sovan Chatterjee’s resignation from the post on a direction by party supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
An opposition CPI(M) councillor had moved the high court, challenging Hakim’s scheduled election on the ground that he was not an elected councillor from any of the wards of the KMC.
Refusing to pass any interim stay, Justice Debangshu Basak directed the state and the KMC to file affidavits in opposition to the petition of CPI(M) councillor Bilkis Begum.
The petitioner was directed to file her affidavit in reply within another week. The matter would be taken up for further hearing on December 17, the court directed.
The petitioner challenged the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (Second Amendment) Bill, 2018, which was passed by the West Bengal Assembly recently.
The amended act, to which the governor has given his assent, enables a person, who is not an elected councillor, to be made a mayor of the KMC. The person would have to be elected within six months to continue in the post.
The amendment facilitated the taking over of Firhad Hakim, who is not a councillor, as the mayor of KMC. Hakim is a minister in the West Bengal cabinet.
The councillor prayed for the nullification of the amendment, claiming that the amended act is unconstitutional.
Appearing for the petitioner, senior counsel Bikash Bhattacharya submitted that a mayor of the city is elected from among the elected representatives.
The Constitution does not provide for a non-elected person to head a local or municipal body, Bhattacharya, himself a former mayor of the city from the CPI(M), submitted.
He claimed that the Assembly did not have the authority to change the laws governing the election of a mayor to a civic body.
Appearing for the state, Advocate General Kishore Dutta submitted that since the Constitution did not expressly prohibit the election of a non-member of the municipal body to the post of mayor, it could not be termed unconstitutional.
While the AG claimed that “a prohibition cannot be assumed”, Bhattacharya submitted that “it cannot be done unless there is an enabling provision.”
Senior counsel Saktinath Mukherjee, appearing for the KMC, submitted that the Constitution provided that a state legislature will legislate on all matters relating to election in a municipal body.
Stating that there is no bar on the legislature in legislating on matters related to the election in a municipal body, Mukherjee submitted that prohibition is to be expressed and cannot be inferred.
Justice Basak asked whether a mayor, who is not an elected representative, could vote on any issue in the House, to which Mukherjee said the right could be exercised only after he was elected from one of the wards in the municipal corporation.
The Trinamool Congress, which has a huge majority in the KMC with 122 seats out of a total 144, has elected Firhad Hakim as its leader in the municipal body. The Left Front has 14, BJP 5 and the Congress 2 seats, while one seat is vacant.
While Hakim has filed his nomination for the mayor’s post from the TMC, councillor Meena Devi Purohit, a former deputy mayor of the KMC, has filed as a BJP candidate.
Election for the post of mayor to KMC is scheduled to be held on December 3.