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EC undecided on re-polling

- Opposition surprised at delay, Bankura DM predicts re-election

May 8: The Election Commission was yet to decide on re-polling for the rigging-tainted third and fourth phases in Bengal till late tonight, the unusual delay evoking Opposition surprise.

Commission sources said these decisions needed “careful consideration” and that the scrutiny of the local administrations’ reports and Opposition complaints would take some more time.

Usually, decisions on re-polling are taken by afternoon on the day after the vote, so the matter is taking longer then usual even in relation to yesterday’s polling. As for the third phase of voting on April 30, eight days have already passed.

The Left has demanded re-polling in 301 booths for yesterday’s Lok Sabha poll phase and in 1,326 booths where voting was held on April 30, the leg that prompted the largest number of Opposition complaints.

The poll panel had sought a detailed report from Bengal chief electoral officer Sunil Kumar Gupta on 43 third-phase booths.

“The commission has not communicated to us its decision on re-polling for the fourth phase,” assistant chief electoral officer Amit Roychowdhury said this evening.Late tonight, the commission’s director of information, Dhirendra Ojha, said a decision was unlikely to be taken today. “I have no knowledge of a decision on re-polling in Bengal. It is unlikely to be taken today. When we arrive at a decision, it shall be duly notified,” Ojha told The Telegraph from Delhi.

Re-polling has been ordered in six booths for the first two phases on account of technical glitches such as malfunctioning electronic voting machines. So far, not a single re-polling order has been passed for electoral malpractice in Bengal this Lok Sabha polls.

CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb said this evening: “Since the commission hasn’t announced its decision on re-polling even for the April 30 phase, one can only guess how long it would take to decide on yesterday’s complaints.”

Bankura district magistrate and district election officer Vijay Bharati announced this afternoon that he expected re-polling at booth 27 at Sahapur Primary School in the Sonamukhi Assembly segment of the Bishnupur Lok Sabha seat.

He said his prediction was based on his “experience” and the report he had sent. Sources in Gupta’s office said Bharati had recommended re-polling in the booth for electoral malpractice.

The commission had yesterday lodged an FIR after the presiding officer and other poll officials were thrown out of the booth, allegedly by local MLA Dipali Saha of the Trinamul Congress and 20 party workers, during voting.

Ten persons were arrested late last night on the basis of the FIR. They were remanded in three days’ police custody by the Bishnupur sub-divisional court today.

Saha had allegedly cast over 100 proxy votes at the booth yesterday. “The MLA and 10 others are still to be traced,” Bharati said.

Saha, a first-time MLA who has been associated with Trinamul for over 10 years, is in Calcutta, party sources said.

Asked about the allegation against Saha, Bankura Trinamul president Arup Khan said: “I don’t know what happened. I will have to find out. This is unfortunate.”

Presiding officer Shubhendu Rajak had consulted the general observer for the Bishnupur constituency, Mool Chand Meena, before lodging the FIR at Sonamukhi police station.

Meena said he had conducted a probe and sent a report to Nirvachan Sadan, the Election Commission’s headquarters in Delhi. He said it had been found that the polling officials were forced out and the voting machine was manipulated.

“Obstructing, assaulting and forcing polling officials out of a booth during voting is a serious, non-bailable offence,” he said.

Bankura CPM secretary Amiya Patra expressed satisfaction at the poll panel’s response to the incident.

“However, we are talking about just one booth. We have lodged complaints of electoral malpractice at 140 booths in the district, mostly in Bishnupur, and demanded re-polling in 33,” he said.

Patra alleged that CPM agents at many booths in Sonamukhi, Kotulpur, Indas, Bishnupur and Khandogosh had either been prevented from entering polling stations or chased away by Trinamul supporters. Trinamul denied the allegations.