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EC to turn heat on district officials

Calcutta, Jan. 28: The Election Commission is ready to crack the whip and make district authorities work “free of political pressure and bias” once it assumes charge after the Assembly poll schedule is declared.

The commission is of the opinion that the district administrations have fared poorly in maintaining law and order.

“Once the poll schedule is announced, the commission will be in control. That’s when the district authorities will be made to follow our guidelines and work free of political pressure and bias. The areas that have been neglected so far, especially in the past two years, will be largely taken care of,” said a senior commission official from Delhi.

The commission has already identified three “areas” of action, based on the report by a six-member observer team sent for an assessment of the state’s law and order situation last week. The team, comprising five IPS officers, was led by Bihar’s chief electoral officer Sudhir Kumar Rakesh.

First, the commission will make the district authorities expedite the execution of non-bailable warrants. “Around 56,000 such cases are pending in Bengal. It’s a tough ask but efforts will be made to try and wrap up as many as possible within three weeks of the announcement of the poll schedule,” said a source in Nirvachan Sadan, the Election Commission’s headquarters in Delhi.

Second, the district authorities will be asked to pre-empt those who are known to intimidate voters and conduct preventive arrests under Sections 103 and 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

“The process actually began when the commission team met the district magistrates and the police superintendents during its visit,” said a district official who had attended a videoconference with the team on January 17. “Rakesh had instructed the officials here to identify such intimidators in every constituency and prepare a list. He had implemented the strategy successfully during the Bihar Assembly polls last year,” the official added.

The list will be used to conduct “prompt preventive arrests” after the commission assumes charge. District officials have been asked to identify zones that are prone to political clashes in each constituency. “We plan to ensure stricter monitoring of such zones in the run-up to the polls,” a commission official said.

Third, the commission hopes to breathe fresh life into the state’s drive to seize illegal arms. According to the team’s report, such a drive exists “only on paper”.

Commission officials said the district police and the central forces would be asked to conduct a “thorough” joint drive to seize illegal arms at least a fortnight before the first phase of polling.

A commission official said around 300 of the 800 companies of central forces to be deployed in Bengal on poll duty would be sent at least three weeks before the first day of polling. “A large portion of these 300 companies will be used in the drive,” the official said.

Nirvachan Sadan sources said the district authorities were “hesitant” to take action against supporters of political parties possessing illegal arms. “But once they come under the commission’s wing, the authorities will have no choice but to take action. Effective backup from the central forces will also make the drive more efficient,” the official said.

The poll panel is likely to send an observer team — possibly the same sent last week — for another recce of the state, this time to assess the situation in places where Left supporters have been the “victims”.

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