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Beware of spy cams in booths

New Delhi, Jan. 14: For the first time in India, paramilitary personnel may be posted inside poll booths and counting centres during next month's Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana elections.

The Supreme Court has suggested to the Election Commission that spy cameras, closed-circuit television and other video equipment should also be installed inside the booths and counting centres.

In a judgment on Tuesday, the court said the commission 'should consider' posting paramilitary forces inside booths 'in addition to the law and order duty (of the forces) outside' the booths.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti, Justices G.P. Mathur and A.K. Mathur issued a set of eight suggestions on a petition filed by Janak Singh, whose counsel initially made the proposals to the apex court.

Singh, the BJP candidate in the last Bihar Assembly elections, had lost to Rashtriya Janata Dal minister Ram Das Rai by 265 votes. He contended that Rai could have curried favour with poll officials as he was a minister last time, too, and could have invalidated votes to win by a thin margin.

The apex court upheld the suggestions and said the poll panel should also consider installing 'some cameras' in the polling booths to keep vigil on the 'local staff' on duty.

'It has come to our notice that sometimes local staff who are appointed to conduct the election become party to the unfair and illegal practice. The paramilitary staff outside the booths maintain law and order but what transpires inside is beyond their reach,' the court said.

'Therefore, the Election Commission may consider some measures to appoint some of the personnel of the paramilitary forces to be deputed inside the booths so as to keep an eye on local staff who are entrusted to conduct the election. This will have a sobering effect on staff that they are under vigilance of paramilitary forces.'

The court urged the poll panel to consider employing most of the staff from among 'non-administrative department employees like health, education and others' instead of 'administrative department employees'. (See chart)

Some observers should be picked from the general public and should be men of integrity and independence, it said.

The court also warned that money earmarked for the conduct of elections should be utilised for that purpose only and not for others 'like purchasing odd items'.

The bench, however, confirmed the verdict of Patna High Court upholding the election of Rai from Saratya Assembly constituency.

Election Commission sources said the Supreme Court's suggestions would be taken up at a meeting on Monday and implemented from the February elections.

So far, the Election Commission has not favoured the use of closed-circuit televisions or spy cameras, saying they would compromise the confidentiality of voting.

The commission had even criticised the electronic media when it beamed ballot papers, disclosing the parties people had voted for. It had warned that such practices could result in cancellation of elections because of breach of confidentiality.

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