The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll panel orders booth recast

Calcutta, Nov. 25: Having ensured free and fair polls in Bihar, the Election Commission appears to have begun tightening its screws on Bengal, where allegations of rigging have been common, though not the bloodshed associated with the neighbouring state.

The commission has ordered that all polling booths within 200 metres of offices of recognised/affiliated trade unions or political parties will have to be relocated for the Assembly elections due in mid-2006.

'We have orders to relocate all such booths. In cases where relocation is not possible, we will seek further orders from the commission,' chief electoral officer Debashish Sen said.

The directive would hit the Left Front the hardest.

According to the model code of conduct in force during polls, banners, flags and festoons of political parties are not allowed within 200 metres of polling booths.

The CPM, its partners and their affiliates, including unions, own buildings or operate out of rented premises across Bengal. 'Many booths are located near party offices, which are decked with banners and festoons and are swarming with political workers,' said a government official. About 15 per cent of the 48,000-odd polling booths across Bengal have such offices within 200 metres.

For the CPM, the directive, seen in party circles as a show of the commission's hostile attitude towards it, might not have come as a surprise. The party has begun telling cadre to draw a lesson from the way the poll panel conducted the bypoll to the Asansol Lok Sabha seat in September. Although the party nominee won with a huge margin, the CPM cadre were confronted by aggressive commission officials.

The state CPM described the commission's directive as 'unrealistic'. Benoy Konar, a party central committee member, said: 'We don't know how it will be implemented as these offices are spread all over the state. The commission doesn't have the authority to demolish these offices. Nor will they be able to relocate all booths.'

The Trinamul Congress welcomed the move, but sounded cautious apprehending that in pockets. it might also have to bear the brunt. 'We support the directive, but the onus of implementation is on the commission,' said Pankaj Banerjee, the leader of Opposition in the Assembly.

That the commission means business is evident from the fact that five teams from Delhi are already in the state to monitor the electoral roll revision process. The team touring north Calcutta today complained that it didn't find the designated officers at three booths in Burtolla.

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