The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Too hot' Call the local cops

Calcutta/Behrampore, May 4: In this Bengal election, the central forces have been hot, hot, hot while the state’s police have been cooling their heels. But yesterday, the heat got too much for the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.

Supposed to guard the electronic voting machines on their journey from the polling station to the strongroom, they walked away sulking because they hadn’t been given air-conditioned cars.

A state police team, rushed from Behrampore, reached Nowda constituency around midnight and escorted the 25 buses carrying 900 polling personnel and the EVMs back to the strongroom around an hour later.

The five ITBP battalions posted at Nowda, 45 km from Behrampore town, had been seeking air-conditioned cars for the five commandants as well as separate cars for the 10 assistant commandants.

The block development officer, however, could only arrange for a few Tata Sumos, without AC.

Around 7 pm, after voting had ended and the polling officials were getting ready to leave with the 187 EVMs, the ITBP men just left them behind and went off to Behrampore all by themselves.

“They were so unhappy about the cars that soon after polling duty was over, they left for Behrampore. The over 900 polling personnel were left stranded'. They were afraid to move by themselves,” said Murshidabad district magistrate N. Manjunatha Prasad.

“Nobody is entitled to air-conditioned cars during election duty. In any case, nobody can hold such a large number of polling personnel to ransom,” an Election Commission official said.

The ITBP men, however, got their way today. The five battalions, which had been camping at a schoolhouse in Behrampore, left for Jalpaiguri around 7 am but not before five air-conditioned cars were provided for their commandants. The rest travelled by trucks and buses.

However, the district magistrate, who is also the returning officer for Murshidabad, said: “Now the issue has been sorted out.”

Deputy election commissioner Anand Kumar said the poll panel had wanted the central forces to guard the strongrooms as well as the EVMs.

“We had specifically asked the central forces to accompany the polling parties right up to the strongrooms. We will look into the matter and verify the details,” Kumar said.

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