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Two-tier EC teams to assess sensitivity

Calcutta, May 5: The Election Commission has formed a two-tier committee at the state and the district levels that will assess booth sensitivity and decide on force deployment in the last two phases of the Lok Sabha polls after taking into account the opinion of candidates.

The commission’s move to fine-tune security arrangements was questioned by the Opposition, which expressed doubt over the impartiality of the state-level team.

The district committee set up by the Nirvachan Sadan will comprise the district magistrate, the superintendent of police, the general observer and the police observer.

The state-level team will have in it special poll observer for Bengal Sudhir Kumar Rakesh, state chief electoral officer Sunil Kumar Gupta and additional director-general (law and order) M.K. Singh.

The last two phases will witness voting in 23 constituencies. According to sources, the commission expects trouble in some of the seats that will go to the polls in the last phase on May 12.

Officials said the decision to fine-tune security in the last two legs was taken after incidents of rigging were reported in many constituencies in the third phase. The Opposition complained of malpractice in at least 826 booths, with the Birbhum district accounting for as many as 523.

“There should not be a repeat of the third phase in Bengal. The commission does not like leaving the scope for so many complaints and allegations,” said a source in Delhi.

Asked about the division of work, a commission official said that the district-level committee would assess sensitivity of the booths, revise the deployment plan, share it with candidates of all political parties and then fine-tune the assessment, if needed. The committee will then submit its report to the constituency’s returning officer, who in turn will forward it to the state-level panel.

After examining the reports, the state-level team will forward them to the Nirvachan Sadan with recommendations, if any. The final decision on sensitivity and re-assessment will be taken by the poll panel’s top brass in Delhi.

“The measure to fine-tune security was necessitated by the reports of violence and intimidation in the third phase. They did not go down well with the commission officials in Delhi,” a poll panel source said this evening.

He added that the commission “would like to make fool-proof security arrangements so that polling isn’t marred by violence and intimidation again”.

Sources said the commission had instructed Gupta to ensure deployment of armed police personnel and central forces wherever possible, at doorways to booths.

Referring to the allegations of bias and inaction against the chief electoral officer’s office, the Opposition parties today doubted if the assessment of booth sensitivity would be impartial.

“The CEO’s office has shown inaction and bias throughout the poll process. Rakesh, too, is now under the commission’s scanner, from what we hear. M.K. Singh is part of the administration from which 30-odd officials were removed from election-related duty for their bias. How effective will this committee’s recommendations be?” asked former state Congress chief Pradip Bhattacharya.

Poll observer Rakesh’s statement that the polls in the third phase were “free and fair” were met with criticism by the Opposition on April 30.

CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb echoed Bhattacharya and pointed out that there was hardly any time left to re-assess security for the fourth phase on Wednesday.

“Improvements, if any, would be discernible in the fifth phase on May 12, when 17 constituencies go to polls,” he added.

Chief electoral officer Gupta is yet to send his report on polling in 43 booths in the third phase that the commission had sought after alleged incidents of rigging.

Sources in the commission in Delhi said the report on the 43 booths was sought as the panel top brass was “concerned” that the election observers under Rakesh had sent feedback that made no mention of malpractice despite over 2,000 complaints by the Opposition.

A final decision on re-polling in the 43 booths would be taken on the basis of Gupta’s report.