The Telegraph
Thursday , March 20 , 2014
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Shift plan to sanitise poll booths


Ranchi, March 19: Several polling booths in Jharkhand, classified as highly sensitive, are likely to be relocated to safer areas with the state security establishment reassessing their threat perception.

Senior police officers of three states, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, held a closed door meeting today to ensure proper security cover during the upcoming elections.

Odisha, which was also scheduled to participate, couldn’t turn up owing to a meeting with election commission over video conferencing, claimed sources.

Jharkhand, which will go to polls on three days — April 10, 17 and 24 — has 24,648 polling stations spread across 18,852 venues in 14 Lok Sabha constituencies.

During the 2009 general elections, over 50 per cent of the booths were tagged sensitive and highly sensitive. Senior police officers were unable to reveal the exact number of booth relocations as they were yet to complete their assessment, but all acknowledged that the security environment was extremely challenging.

A highly placed source, however, maintained that about 50-60 booths had been identified for relocation. Ranchi zone covers the five districts of Lohardaga, Gumla, Simdega, Khunti and Ranchi.

“We have classified 2,400 booths as highly sensitive, 1,500 as sensitive and the rest 550 as normal. Of the total lot, 50-60 booths will have to be relocated in extreme situations,” said a Ranchi range officer in the know of things.

Although sustained anti-Naxalite operations since 2009 had brought several parts of the state, like Saranda (West Singhbhum) and Saryu (Latehar-Daltonganj), under control, border areas of neighbouring Chattisgarh, Bengal and Odisha were still a matter of concern.

Last week’s ambush in Chhattisgarh, which killed over a dozen people including security personnel and a civilian, was evidence of how serious security concerns were.

“The agenda is to ensure smooth coordination between these states for proper security. Naxalite activity will have to be curbed in the bordering areas connecting Bengal, Chattisgarh and Odisha,” said Ranchi zonal IG M. S. Bhatia after the meeting, the third so far to discuss security strategies.

About relocation of sensitive booths, he said those were being worked out. “The idea is to make polling booths people friendly, which means it is easily accessible and also safe from the security point of view. We are assessing all aspects carefully,” he explained.

Additional election officer of the state K.K. Soan was also unwilling to furnish the number of sensitive and highly sensitive booths in Jharkhand. “The figures will take time to evolve because sensitivity changes with candidature and varies from time to time. Once the candidates are finalised, then, depending on their background, it will be known,” he said.

Today’s meeting also discussed a roadmap for anti-Naxalite offensives in the run up to the elections. Around 40-odd officers, ranging from IGs, SPs to ASPs of all the participating states, and the CRPF top brass were present at the meeting.

“We were advised by seniors to tackle Maoists using presence of mind as much as warfare skills. For example, these days, instead of consolidating their positions in a particular locality, Maoists assemble at a particular location for a specific period and disperse after operations. This has to be curbed,” said an SP who attended the meeting.

Among the other aspects that were discussed, said Bhatia, were sharing of intelligence and lists of criminals to curb inter-state movements.

“The thrust is on coordination with state police and CRPF to prevent a rerun of the Latehar incident where both parties opened fire on each other by mistake. Each and every constable will be sensitised on the dos and donts of handling mines during operations,” he said.