|Poll panel chief Mira Pande and Mamata Banerjee
Calcutta, June 14: The Bengal government is gearing up for panchayat polls in five phases as it has become almost certain that it will not be possible to arrange for adequate security.
The preparations started today with senior government officials trying to convince chief minister Mamata Banerjee that it would not be a loss of face for the government if the number of phases is increased from three to five to ensure security in accordance with the high court’s directive.
“Madam (Mamata) was informed at the meeting that the deployment formula set by the court on May 14 has not been changed. We will not be able to get the 1.43 lakh police personnel required for the first phase of the polls,” a source said.
According to the court-specified security arrangement for the first phase on July 2, 1.18 lakh police personnel will be required for the booths and another 25,000 for area domination and other purposes.
“The chief minister was told that the state could spare no more than 50,000 from its own contingent and it would not be possible to get more than 10,000 personnel from the Centre and the three states we have approached,” the source said.
During the meeting this afternoon, chief secretary Sanjay Mitra, home secretary Basudeb Banerjee and panchayat secretary Saurav Das explained to Mamata how increasing the number of phases could solve the problem of force shortfall. Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee and law minister Chandrima Bhattacharya also attended the meeting.
The first phase, according to Writers’ sources, could be broken into two or three legs to use the available forces efficiently.
Around 36,000 booths across nine districts, including over 25,000 categorised as “sensitive” or “highly sensitive”, are slated to go to polls in the first phase.
“The math is simple. Of the 1.43 lakh personnel needed for the first phase, the state will be able to get 60,000-odd. If the phase is split into three, the requirement will come down to around 48,000 for each,” a home department official said.
According to him, arranging for security for the July 6 and 9 phases will not be too difficult because four districts will vote in each phase. Moreover, there are less than 11,000 “sensitive” and “highly sensitive” booths in the two phases taken together.
The Writers’ sources said Mamata, who mostly “listened quietly” during the meeting and sought clarifications at times, was informed that the state election commission was likely to send a letter seeking the deployment plan for the first phase within a few days.
The state will have to inform the commission that a maximum of 60,000 personnel could be arranged. In such a situation, the officials explained to the chief minister, the commission will “almost certainly” move court seeking a redistribution of districts in the first phase.
“If the court agrees to the plea, Madam was told, it should not be interpreted as the commission’s victory or the government’s loss of face,” a government official said.
Panel sources said the commission was working on a strategy where the district distribution in the first phase can be 5-4 or 3-3-3.
“We are making our calculations so that we can show the court how feasible it would be to rearrange the districts given the force crunch,” a poll panel source said.
The state election commission today told the district magistrates of seven of the nine districts slated to go to polls on July 2 to submit reports on why a high number of seats would go uncontested.
“In these seven districts, the number of uncontested seats is abnormally high. We would like to know why,” a commission source said tonight.
Altogether, 5,138 of the 5,259 uncontested seats are in Hooghly, East and West Midnapore, Burdwan, Bankura, South 24-Parganas and Howrah.
Industries minister Partha Chatterjee said: “I don’t know if the commission has the right to seek such reports. I don’t even know why it needs such reports because it already has the statistics and the details of the nominations.”