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Bias cry prompts EC briefing for first time

Calcutta, March 26: The Election Commission has decided to organise special briefings for central observers for at least five Bengal districts to prepare them for the “challenges” they might face while monitoring the Lok Sabha polls.

According to Nirvachan Sadan sources, this is the first time the panel will organise such briefings. The move was planned in the aftermath of reports that a section of the civil and police administrations in Bankura, Purulia, West Midnapore, Birbhum and South 24-Parganas had shown “symptoms of bias”.

The panel is keeping a close watch on Nadia and Murshidabad because the authorities there have shown “similar trends”, the sources said.

The 16 general observers, the 16 expenditure observers and the five police observers to be sent to the 16 constituencies in the five districts are expected to be instructed about ways to overcome the hurdles they might face.

Besides statutory daily reports, they will have to send additional reports to Nirvachan Sadan on the problems they are facing and the need for intervention by deputy election commissioner Vinod Zutshi and other senior poll panel officials.

“The decisions are based on the feedback Zutshi got in Bengal. While briefing Nirvachan Sadan bosses, he said that among the eight states and Union territories under his supervision, the poll officials in Bengal were found to be under maximum pressure,” a source in Delhi said.

The 1982-batch IAS officer of the Rajasthan cadre, who has been in charge of Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in Bengal since 2009, also looks after electioneering in Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Daman and Diu.

Zutshi was in Calcutta yesterday to hold review meetings and assess Bengal’s poll preparedness. He met representatives from the major political parties and senior police and civil officers of all 19 districts.

During the meetings with the political parties, he heard several complaints from the Left, Congress and the BJP. The parties accused the government of being biased towards the ruling party.

According to an official who attended Zutshi’s meeting with the district administrations yesterday, the commission has found that the situation in Bengal had not changed much despite the change of guard in the state three years ago.

“Bengal remains a challenge for the commission. Earlier, then Opposition Trinamul used to complain against the ruling Left. Now there has been a role reversal,” the official said.Since the electoral reforms introduced in 2006, all chief election commissioners have given special focus to Bengal.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the commission deployed 220 companies of central forces over three phases. In the 2011 Assembly elections, 331 companies had been sent over six phases.

The quantum of central forces for the five-phase Lok Sabha polls in Bengal this year is yet to be finalised. “We will try to ensure nothing comes in the way of free, fair and peaceful polls in the state. The guidelines for the observers will be a part of that,” the commission source in Delhi said.