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State in favour of two-phase polls
- Govt steers clear of panel confrontation

Calcutta, Feb. 13: The government has proposed that the panchayat polls be held in two phases, appearing to take a middle ground with the state election commission that has been insisting on a three-stage exercise.

The government had earlier said it wanted to hold the polls in a single phase.

The panchayat department sent a letter to the election commission yesterday informing it that it is ready to drop its previous plan and the polls could be held in two phases in the last week of April.

The election commission had cited security reasons while making it clear that it wanted to hold the polls in three phases.

Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee today hinted that the government did not want a confrontation with the election commission.

“We won’t force anything. The state election commission will decide on the schedule of the panchayat polls,” he said.

“Can anybody guarantee that no trouble will occur if the polls are held in three phases? We want a free-and-fair election within the stipulated time frame,” Mukherjee added.

Senior government officials said it was clear from Mukherjee’s comments that the state was not in a position to hold the polls in one phase.

“The situation has become critical and several questions are being raised on the law-and-order situation in Bengal,” a Writers’ official said.

Another official said: “The commission had made it clear that it was tough to maintain law and order in case of single-phase elections. Now, in the changed scenario, the state does not want to take chances.”

The commission had earlier rejected the government’s plan to hold the rural polls in January or early February.

Senior panchayat department officials said that though the department had proposed two-phase polls, it would not oppose if the commission remained determined on three phases.

The state would also not oppose the deployment of central forces during the polls.

“Although law and order is a state subject, we have no objection if the state election commission seeks central forces. We will extend all possible assistance to the commission to hold the polls peacefully,” minister Mukherjee said.

A senior election commission official said the letter arrived last evening. “The letter is with the commissioner (Mira Pande) and she is considering the proposals. A decision will be taken soon,” the official said.