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Police observers to cramp Bengal’s style

Calcutta, April 14: The Election Commission’s decision to use police observers in all 42 constituencies of Bengal is aimed at minimising the involvement of district officials in deployment of security forces, said a senior poll panel official based in Delhi.

According to him, the decision was taken on April 11 after allegations of bias were levelled against some district officials.

“We also checked what had happened in the past, especially during the panchayat polls where a large number of central forces remained unutilised,” the poll panel official said.

A large contingent of central forces was then brought in by state election commissioner Mira Pande who had fought a legal battle against the state government.

“The Election Commission found out that the deployment of forces in the panchayat elections was done by the district authorities. This is the reason why the EC is against allowing the district authorities to play a crucial role in deploying forces,” said another official.

According to a senior state government official, the commission took a strong note of how central forces were kept out of duty in Burdwan and South 24-Parganas during the panchayat polls. “In these two districts, central forces were either kept in reserve or kept waiting in the police stations. This had sent a wrong message,” the official said.

Not that there were no monitors in the panchayat polls but they were general observers who have little option but to depend heavily on the district officials for ground-level decisions on force deployment.

The general observers — senior IAS officers from other states — are usually tied down because they need to discharge several duties and, hence, cannot devote close attention to the details of deployment of forces.

“The ruling establishment exploits such situations to help its cadres manipulate the election process. Some sensitive booths can be kept out of the list of critical booths or central forces can be put on reserve to keep them away from the polling booths,” said another government official.

Factors more decisive than subterfuge are usually required to influence the outcome of big elections like that to the Lok Sabha. But in close contests where margins may be thin, every tactic helps.

“In a four-cornered contest, the margins of victory are expected to be narrow…. So, the police observers can play a big role in ensuring that no manipulation takes place during the poll process,” an official said.

As the police observers will now oversee all security-related affairs, ranging from reviewing the list of critical booths to deployment of both central and state forces, the role of district officials will be cut down.

In 2011, a police observer was deployed in South 24-Parganas and he had played an active role in deploying security forces. “He had redrawn the vulnerability of booths. More booths were included in the list of critical booths and forces were deployed accordingly. No complaint of intimidation came up during the polls,” recalled an official who was posted in the district.

SPECIFIC ROLES

What general observers are expected to do

  • Meet parties and receivecomplaints, mainly on violation of the model code of conduct (MCC)
  • Be present while pollpersonnel are trained
  • Ensure display of electoral rolls in all required places
  • Meet returningofficers regularly and give instructions on MCCviolation
  • Visit booths and ensure facilities are in place
  • Monitor cells that deal with transport, polling personneland the MCC
  • Be present when polling personnel are randomised (tagged)
  • Oversee forcedeployment if there is no police observer. For this, the general observers will have to depend heavily on the SP and the DM

What police observers are expected to do

  • Receive law-and-order complaints directly from parties
  • Visit all places from where complaints come up
  • Verify whethervulnerable places figure in the map prepared by the SP and the DM
  • If any placeis missing, the observer can add it to the map anddeploy forces
  • Keep tabs on whether central forces are being posted for poll duty