The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt on fair-poll front foot

Calcutta, Dec. 2: The government today tried to take the wind out of the Opposition's sails by asking the Election Commission for more paramilitary personnel and polls in phases, a staple demand of Mamata Banerjee and her ilk.

'We are sending a proposal to Delhi, asking for deployment of at least half-a-section (six) of paramilitary personnel at each of the 50,000-odd booths across the state,' home secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy said at Writers' Buildings.

The government will also make it clear that it is not averse to elections in phases and over several days.

Chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb met chief election commissioner B.B. Tandon at Raj Bhavan yesterday and conveyed the government's views.

Deb and Roy will meet Tandon again in Delhi, when they go there for the tripartite meeting of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council on December 6.

'We don't object to polls over two, three, four or five days. In fact, we've made various estimates of the number of paramilitary personnel required for the over 50,000 booths, in case polls are conducted over several days. The final decision rests with the commission. Whatever it decides, we will accept,' Roy said.

With four other states 'Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry ' going to polls with Bengal, it is clear that deployment of such a large number of personnel will not be possible at all places.

Asked if multiple-phase polls will be conducted in Bengal, Tandon had yesterday said it would depend on factors like availability of central forces, school examinations, weather and law and order.

With the Opposition parties clamouring for the 'Bihar model' for the Bengal elections, the Left Front has evidently decided not to go on a collision course with the EC.

During the Lok Sabha elections last year, CPM leader Biman Bose and several others had criticised election observers such as Afzal Amanullah for exceeding their brief and had said that people in Bengal (his party workers) knew how to deal with them.

In a circular issued recently, the CPM leadership had asked party functionaries and senior leaders not to go into a confrontation with the poll panel. 'A section of the party brass feel that in the absence of a strong-enough Opposition, only the Election Commission can harm the CPM's poll prospects ' by imposing stricter norms. Hence, the party would do better not to antagonise the commission,' a leader said.

The chief election commissioner today held a three-hour meeting with the district magistrates and police chiefs of Burdwan, Bankura, Purulia, the two Midnapores, Birbhum and Hooghly.

The police superintendents of Naxalite-infested Purulia, Bankura and the Midnapores were told to prepare a detailed report about the possible Maoist strike zones during next year's elections. Tandon asked police to identify guerrilla territories and monitor their movement.

All reports, including the list of sensitive booths, will have to reach the commission by April, an official said.

The chief election commissioner also cautioned the district magistrates against bogus voters being included in the electoral rolls.

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