The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll panel allays ‘outsider’ scare

Calcutta, April 30: The Election Commission today said only 1 per cent of those deployed for poll duty in Bengal will be from outside the state.

“Altogether, two lakh polling personnel will be deployed in 49,000 booths in Bengal. Of these only 2,000 officials, accounting for about 1 per cent, will come from other states,” chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy said.

The CPM had earlier bristled at the poll panel’s decision to bring in Bengali-speaking personnel from neighbouring states to oversee the May 10 parliamentary elections.

The CPM and various lobbies under its control, notably the powerful co-ordination committee of state government employees’ bodies, had resisted the commission’s move. A few days ago, the committee had submitted a memorandum registering its displeasure to chief electoral officer Basudeb Banerjee.

“It is not the first instance where polling officials are being brought in from other states. ... This measure is in no way a reflection on the performance of state officials. It is just to boost confidence among voters. We want to send across the message that there is no need to be afraid while casting votes,” Krishnamurthy said.

The poll panel chief, however, refused comment when asked if he thought the situation in Bengal was conducive to free and fair elections. “We are not here to provide certificates to a particular administration. We have made certain arrangements and we hope the elections will be free and fair,” he said.

At Writers’ Buildings, asked if he thought a section of the administration was biased towards the ruling party, chief secretary Asok Gupta said: “I don’t believe the administration is biased. I have full faith in it.”

Krishnamurthy said the commission was considering a suggestion to deploy helicopters in some districts for surveillance and transportation of polling personnel. “We will have to carry out dialogues with the defence ministry on this score,” he said, adding that special precaution will be taken for booths in border areas.

“The paramilitary forces will not remain stationary and should be available near the booths so that they can address any law and order problem. Their deployment will be in consultation with the commission,” he said.

The chief secretary said the government has written to the defence ministry seeking air force helicopters for carrying personnel, if needed, on May 9 and 10 to booths in places difficult to access.

He said helicopters will low-fly four police station areas in three districts where the People’s War and the Maoist Communist Centre are active in the forest areas. The police stations are Belpahari and Binpur in West Midnapore, Bandwan in Purulia and Ranibandh in Bankura.

Krishnamurthy held a series of meetings with representatives of different political parties as well as senior state officials, including the chief secretary, the home secretary, the city police commissioner and the director-general of police.

He received complaints from the Congress, which alleged that CPM-backed goons had accumulated arms to rig the polls in Purulia, Bankura, Hooghly, Burdwan, Birbhum, Bankura and the two Midnapores.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee met Krishnamurthy and his two deputies.

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