Vehicles lined up for election duty on the St. Joseph’s School grounds during the last Assembly election. File picture
Darjeeling, March 6: The district administration’s decision to count votes of Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat only in Siliguri and not in Darjeeling has upset all hill political parties.
The Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency consists of four plains Assembly segments — Siliguri, Naxalbari-Matigara, Phansidewa and Chopra from North Dinajpur district — apart from the three hill segments of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.
Counting for the Darjeeling seat used to take place on the premises of Siliguri College for the plains segments and at St. Joseph’s Ground (North Point), Darjeeling, for the three hill Assembly segments.
But Puneet Yadav, the district magistrate of Darjeeling and the returning officer, said: “This year the counting will take place only at Siliguri College as St. Joseph’s School authorities did not give us permission to use their school field. They had approached the high court and they have a ruling in their favour. This is why we have decided to hold counting only in one place.”
Yadav said he had recently held a meeting with the registered and recognised parties of the state and none had raised any objection. But none of the hill political parties are registered and recognised.
All the hill parties have protested the decision, saying they did not know about it.
Roshan Giri, general secretary of the Morcha, said: “Is it true? We will demand that counting be held in Darjeeling as in the past.”
The Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM) echoed the Morcha. Govind Chhetri, its spokesman, said: “This is not a ploy to make things difficult for the hill parties. They know we will have problems working in the plains and the hill people cannot go to Siliguri for counting. This is why they have deliberately shifted the venue. This is the very reason why we need Gorkhaland. We will immediately write to the Election Commission voicing our protest. If this is the attitude of the administration in Darjeeling, we may have to boycott the elections.”
Pratap Khati, the general secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) said: “Darjeeling is probably the only district headquarters where the administration cannot find a venue for counting of votes for the three Assembly segments. This also proves that the administration attaches no importance to Darjeeling. We will immediately take up the issue with the Election Commission.”
Yadav said there was no question of foul play.
“It is not like ballot boxes will have to be transported, but EVM machines. Also it takes less travelling time to take EVMs from Kalimpong and Kurseong to Siliguri instead of bringing them to Darjeeling. The expenditure will also be less, even for the political parties as they will need to deploy people only at one venue,” he said.
Saman Pathak, the CPM candidate for the Darjeeling seat, said he had no problem with counting taking place at only one venue on May 16.
Political parties from the hills have suggested that the counting venue in Darjeeling can be set up in any other grounds like Dali Police Ground, Gorkha Stadium, Lebong and the Ghoom Boys Higher Secondary School Ground at Jorebunglow.
Counting of the GTA election votes had taken place at Gorkha Rangamanch Bhavan but polling had taken place in only the 17 GTA constituencies as the rest had been won by the Morcha uncontested.