The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Price of peaceful polls

Calcutta, May 1: This would be the costliest Bengal election ever, though there might be arguments over whether it is the most free and fair.

According to estimates, the expenditure is likely to climb to over Rs 150 crore by the time the poll process is completed.

'Initially, our budget for this election had been Rs 60 crore. Now, we think it could go up to Rs 90 crore,' joint chief electoral officer Nikhil Sahana said today.

What he did not say was that the figure does not include the expenses for the rolls revision, the distribution of voter's photo identity cards or the deployment of 600 companies of the paramilitary forces and police personnel.

The state government is shelling out about Rs 40 crore on security alone.

Sahana's Rs 90 crore only includes the conduct of polls ' from the date of election notification to the day of counting.

The 2001 elections had cost less than a third of the amount to be spent in 2006 ' Rs 45 crore. Given the 5 per cent annual rate of inflation, this figure should not have crossed Rs 60 crore in 2006, other things remaining the same.

Officials said the Election Commission's decision to bring in 60,000 security personnel from other states, use digital cameras at booths and deploy additional polling personnel led to the steep jump in expenses.

'The number of polling stations has gone up to 54,000 from 40,000-odd. Consequently, the number of polling personnel has also gone up to 2.75 lakh. Moreover, we're deploying additional personnel in crowded booths,' Sahana said.

With the huge deployment of poll officers, the overheads for training and travel have also gone up.

The number of electronic voting machines being used this time is about 65,000. About Rs 5 crore is being spent on their batteries alone.

The election department has spent Rs 3 crore buying 3,000 digital cameras and another Rs 3 crore in deploying cameramen.

The cameras have been set up at booths to photograph voters who do not have voter IDs. Made in Japan, each camera costs Rs 11,000.

The clean-up of the rolls, which saw observers being sent to every constituency, has cost the state Rs 16 crore.

Over 50,000 vehicles are being used to ferry the 2.75 lakh poll personnel and over 65,000 voting machines across the state over the five phases. This is likely to cost about Rs 40 crore.

The move to ensure every voter has an electoral photo identity card, which involved 1,500 digital cameras and mobile vans to photograph voters, has cost around Rs 9 crore.

Other expenses, which include trips made by over 300 observers and the poll panel brass, are still to be counted, an official said.

This is also the first time that helicopters are being used so extensively.

'Although we're yet to receive a bill from the air force, it could run into a few crores,' the official said.

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