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EC doubles observers

Calcutta, April 15: Just when the CPM thought the Election Commission is through with its diktat-a-day regimen, the panel has struck again.

Forty-eight hours before Bengal’s first vote will be punched in, the commission has decided to double the number of observers in over 80 per cent of the 45 seats going to polls on Monday.

Thirty-seven additional observers will be sent to Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore ' the three districts where polling will be held in the first phase. The three districts already have 57 observers ' one general observer in each of the 45 seats and 12 expenditure observers who will monitor activities of police on the day of polling.

The additional observers will be deployed in all first-round seats, barring eight. This means 37 constituencies will have two general observers, which has never happened before in the state.

In earlier elections, the commission used to put several seats under one observer. This time, it has earmarked one observer for each constituency. Today’s decision to send another observer adds a unique feature to an already unparalleled exercise in the state.

Deputy election commissioner Anand Kumar today said additional observers were being sent to monitor the districts more intensely.

“Except for the eight Assembly constituencies, each of the remaining 37 will now have two observers. The officers are being asked to divide the Assembly segment among themselves and increase their surveillance,” said an election official.

The eight exceptions include Kharagpur town, Salboni, Garbeta (West), Raipur, Jhalda, Jaipur, Taldangra and Bandwan Assembly constituencies.

The commission would have liked to send additional observers to these seats, except Kharagpur town, as well but it is not doing so because of Maoists. “Other than Kharagpur town, the rest are Maoist-infested areas and sending observers there would mean arranging additional security forces for them. We don’t have that much resources,” said Sen. “For Kharagpur town, there is no need for additional surveillance.”

Officials said the main reason to send the extra observers stems from a fear of low voter turnout due to political intimidation. “The commission is deploying the additional observer to tell the people that they should go out and cast their vote without fear,” an official said.

With campaigning for the first phase ending today, the commission appealed to the voters to exercise their franchise “fearlessly and according to their free will”.

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