The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll borrows library’s peace
- EC’s foot soldiers to pitch tent and bellow over mikes

Calcutta, April 18: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had apologised for causing a few hours’ disruption at the National Library, but the Election Commission has thought nothing of taking over the premises for days.

The invasion has begun with a huge tent being put up, stacks of bamboo are lying on the grounds and the microphone is waiting to crackle to life.

From tomorrow, commission officials will swarm into the compound as the library has been selected as a centre for distributing electronic voting machines for the two Assembly constituencies, Kabitirtha and Alipore.

This will only be the rehearsal, though. The show starts on April 24 and ends on April 27 when the Assembly elections in Calcutta are completed. During this period the library grounds would virtually be taken over by returning officers, presiding officers, representatives of political parties and the police.

Instructions will be bellowed over the microphones, shattering the calm of the library.

“I had requested the Election Commission officials to leave the National Library alone, but they would not listen,” said Subhendu Mondal, the director.

“I told them to find another place. But they said that if I objected, they would force their way in. So I had no choice.”

Under Section 160 of the Representation of People’s Act, the commission has the right to take over any premises it chooses for election work. An appeal to the court is allowed if it violates the fundamental rights of a person.

Bengal’s chief electoral officer Debashis Sen said he was not aware of the inconvenience readers would face once election work started out of the premises. “I will talk to the divisional officer and look into it.”

Last year, the Confederation of Indian Industry held its partnership summit on the library premises where the Prime Minister, speaking as the chief guest, apologised for the inconvenience caused to the readers. The CII had again announced the National Library as the venue for this year’s summit as well but had to hastily shift it when chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made his displeasure clear.

The disruption that will be caused by election officials will far exceed the scale of the CII summit. Officials said other than the pandal that has already come up on land adjacent to the old annexe building of the library, two bamboo scaffoldings will be constructed on the grounds. One will be built on the lawns opposite the central reference library and the other in the middle of the central park where the CII meet was held.

Between April 24 and 27, caravans of cars and mini-buses will trundle in and out of the library, carting electronic voting machines and poll officials for the two constituencies.

Regular visitors to the library are angry at the commission’s intrusion. “The library would be a complete mess with microphones blaring, people all over the place, cars honking and huge pandals everywhere,” said Amit Kumar Basu, a scholar who is using the library to work on a module for developing communication skills for a Swiss company.

“Even entry through certain gates would be restricted. All that I can say as a regular user of this library is that we don’t deserve this.”

If experience with examination schedules is an indicator, it is unlikely the commission will change its mind. Earlier, it had rejected requests for reconsideration of the election roster because it was clashing with school and university examination dates.

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