Calcutta, March 20: Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee today said the government was in talks with the state election commission to arrive at a consensus on the rural poll dates and the deployment of forces, the first time the administration has spoken openly about such discussions.
“We are trying to solve the problem through discussions with the state poll body. We want to avoid any kind of conflict with the commission and hold the polls peacefully,” Mukherjee told reporters on the corridors of the Assembly today.
The government and the election commission have differed on poll dates and force deployment. While the panel wants three-phase polls in the presence of central forces, the government is in favour of a two-leg exercise using forces from Bengal and other states.
The government had earlier wavered on the dates, once suggesting a unilateral decision and later underscoring the need to find common ground with the poll panel. A unilateral decision could draw the state into a legal battle.
The Telegraph had reported on March 14 how the state, on the advice of the advocate-general, was holding “back-channel” talks with the commission to end the impasse.
Senior Writers’ officials said the government and the commission had reached a “partial consensus”. Both have apparently agreed to a two-phase poll with almost equal distribution of districts over the legs and deployment of two armed force personnel in each of the 58,000-odd booths.
“But the problem of deploying two armed force personnel in each booth, as the commission wants, is yet to be solved. The state will face a shortage of 20,000 personnel in case of such an arrangement. We are trying to get forces from neighbouring states but there has been no confirmation on that,” an official said.
Minister Mukherjee said the government was yet to decide whether to send another letter to the commission or issue a notification directly with its verbal consent.
“It will be decided in a meeting with the chief minister once she returns from Jungle Mahal,” he said. Mamata Banerjee returned tonight.
Senior Writers’ officials said the government was “buying time” to solve the problem of shortage of forces.
Commission officials said they were holding “informal” discussions with the state. “The state wants to hold the poll in two phases — on April 24 and 27, which can be approved if the forces can be arranged,” a panel official said.