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Stormtrooper leaves trail of withering fakes

Krishnagar, Jan. 10: The man on a mission to weed out bogus voters criss-crossed at least a dozen villages in Nadia today and travelled some 120 km from eight in the morning.

In the afternoon, someone asked K.J. Rao 'aren't you tired'

'No, never,' was the no-nonsense reply as the Election Commission adviser flitted to another cluster of houses armed with a sheaf of papers.

Around 8 pm, when he wound up the hunt for fake voters at Badkulla in Hanskhali after having spoken to several hundred people, Rao could still give the district officials a run for their jobs.

In 12-and-a-half hours, his four-car convoy had covered three blocks ' Shantipur, Chakdah and Hanskhali ' primarily investigating complaints made by the Opposition parties.

There was no break in between, but for one that lasted not more than 20 minutes. A couple of rotis, a bowl of dal, a sabzi preparation, salad and a cup of curd around 3 pm were enough to recharge his batteries.

'What energy!' quipped a district official.

After a bland, no-frills breakfast ' a vegetable sandwich and a cup of tea ' his day had begun around seven hours earlier, meeting a CPM delegation. Mridul Dey, a party state secretariat member, submitted a list of 1,200 alleged false voters in Shantipur.

In the course of the day, the election officer seized 10 voter I-cards whose real owners are long dead and proposed the deletion of over 150 names.

He seized tampered ration cards at Chhutorpara in Shantipur and asked the local block development officer (BDO) to investigate further.

With lists carrying voters' photographs ' provided by various political parties ' he went to one BDO's office after the other, collected copies of the official electoral rolls and rushed to the villages. There, he called out names from the list and asked the villagers if these people lived there.

At Belghoria in Shantipur, about 75 km from Calcutta, most voters Rao was looking for were dead. 'All the dead voters seem to live here,' he said with a chuckle.

At Sanyalchar, he took some villagers aside and asked them if they faced trouble on polling day.

On the whirlwind tour, additional district magistrate Rajesh Sinha, the local BDOs and subdivisional officers served as interpreters in his interaction with the voters, real or fake.

'Over 300 people left Sanyalchar last year but only 150 names have been deleted. The rest have been kept intact because they are CPM supporters,' alleged Haridas Biswas, a Trinamul Congress panchayat member.

At Sutragarh Karikarpara Primary School in Shantipur, Rao had to pick his way through children writing their exams seated on the floor to look up a record on the basis of which headmistress Dolly Bhattacharya had issued a school leaving certificate to Habibur Sheikh in January 2004. There was confusion over his birth date. The record book could not be traced.

Police today busted another fake ration and voter I-card racket in Hanskhali, Nadia, about 70 km from Calcutta, as election observers also fanned out to the two 24-Parganas, Howrah and West Midnapore.

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