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Security focus on Jungle Mahal polls

Calcutta, March 15: Scanning forest pathways for explosives, intensifying border vigil and gathering intelligence from villages, particularly those along railway tracks — senior police officers today worked out a security blueprint for the five Lok Sabha constituencies in Maoist-affected Jungle Mahal.

Four of the five constituencies in three Bengal districts will go to polls on May 7.

At a meeting with the superintendents of police of the Maoist-affected West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia, top officers of Bengal police, including director-general G.M.P. Reddy, made it clear that focus should not be laid only on providing security to VVIPs visiting Jungle Mahal to campaign. “Equal thrust” must be given to protecting civilians, the district police chiefs said.

Against the backdrop of the Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh in which 16 persons were killed, it was decided at the meeting that the CRPF and Bengal police would conduct joint patrolling in Jungle Mahal.

“Between Belpahari (in West Midnapore) and Chakulia on the Bengal-Jharkhand border, the terrain is difficult and the telephone communication network is weak. Vigil has to be immediately intensified in the area,” an officer said.

The five Lok Sabha constituencies in Jungle Mahal are Ghatal, Midnapore, Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia. Barring Ghatal, the others will go to polls on May 7. Elections will be held in Ghatal on May 12.

Now, 28 companies of central security forces, including the CRPF, are in West Midnapore and Purulia, which share their borders with Jharkhand. Seven more companies are stationed in Bankura.

“The state government has told the Union home ministry that it can’t afford to release the central forces posted in Jungle Mahal to combat Maoists. The existing forces are not enough to man the entire length of railway tracks in Jungle Mahal. So, gathering intelligence from villages in the area is important,” an officer from Purulia said.

Intelligence reports suggest Maoists are trying to visit villages along the Jharkhand border. Security forces have been asked to conduct combing operations in forests on the Ayodhya Hills in Purulia.

Roads in Jungle Mahal that would be used by political leaders and polling personnel will be sanitised, it was decided at today’s meeting.

Of the 9,733 booths in Jungle Mahal, the Election Commission had categorised around 3,000 as sensitive and 3,900 as highly sensitive. “However, after a reassessment of sensitivity following the Chhattisgarh incident, the number of such booths are expected to rise,” an official said.

Election hours

The Election Commission has decided to extend the polling hours for the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections in Bengal by one hour.