| JM Lyngdoh checks the voter identity card of a villager in Howrah. Picture by Aranya Sen
Shyampur (Howrah), Oct. 29: Chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh today gave a clean chit to the state government, saying charges of polls being rigged in Bengal were by and large “exaggerated”. In the same breath, he suggested certain steps that needed to be taken before the panchayat elections slated for March next year.
“In West Bengal, elections are free and fair and the allegations of rigging brought from time to time by the Opposition parties are mostly exaggerated,” Lyngdoh said, taking the sting out of Mamata Banerjee’s constant allegations of electoral malpractices by the CPM cadre.
The chief election commissioner, on a three-day tour of the state, visited far-flung polling stations in Howrah district this morning. “I want to see for myself how election formalities are fulfilled in such remote and isolated places,” Lyngdoh said.
Brushing aside reporters’ queries on whether free and fair polls would be possible in Gujarat, Lyngdoh said the state was no Jammu and Kashmir.
At every polling station Lyngdoh visited, he noted down the names of the voters who came to meet him and examined their voter identity cards. He took meticulous notes of their complaints and suggestions.
Accompanied by district magistrate Vivek Kumar, Lyngdoh today visited three polling stations in Howrah. The convoy first stopped at the Bharapura Primary School in Shyampur, where Lyngdoh interacted with the villagers.
“Do you have drinking water facilities'” was his first question to Dhruba Bera, a villagers who had come to meet him.
“The nearest tubewell is about 200 metres away from this school. We have requested the local MLA and the administration for another tubewell, but our pleas have not been heard,” he replied.
Lyngdoh asked the district magistrate to look into the matter. Kumar’s prompt promise: he would get the job done as soon as possible.
The convoy’s next stop was Baneswar Primary School a little further down the road. Pointing at the ramshackle building, he asked the district magistrate why it didn’t have a concrete roof. Kumar told the chief election commissioner that the building would be repaired after funds were available.
Here the villagers were ready with complaints about Lyngdoh’s officers. They confronted him with various anomalies that had appeared on their identity cards. “Some peculiar things have happened here. In the photo identity cards, the election commission has even changed the sex of the voters,” complained Parthasarathi Bera.
Kumar and block development officer of Shyampur I Rumela De assured Lyngdoh that they will coordinate with the state poll panel to begin a process of corrections soon.
The chief election commissioner got a jolt at the fag end of his tour when he visited Chowlkhola Primary School. First, to reach the school located near Gadiara, a popular tourist spot, Lyngdoh had to walk about half-a-kilometre through paddy fields.
Second, villagers told him that most of them had boycotted the last elections demanding power connections. The villages in the area are still without power though the high-tension wires run over them. Lyngdoh was also surprised that the walls of the school were not plastered even two years after its construction.
Lyngdoh began his Howrah tour with a one-and-a-half hour visit to the Ramakrishna Mission headquarters at Belur Math. Swami Jnanbratananda explained him the spiritual importance and the aesthetic aspects of the buildings in the complex.
Relief for workers
Faced with a severe funds crunch, the government is finding it difficult to pay Rs 500 each to 33,000 employees of closed factories per month.
But labour minister Mohammad Amin assured that the government will shortly pay the arrears of three months since April to the employees. “It’s a relief that the finance department has recently released Rs 5 crore for the purpose,” he added.