|Poll official Soumen Acharya. (Gopal Senapati)
Howrah, April 1: A poll official was allegedly heckled by suspected Trinamul activists in Shibpur today when he tried to remove Lok Sabha poll campaign material from lampposts maintained by the Howrah Municipal Corporation.
Trinamul leaders, however, accused the Election Commission of being biased and claimed that the posters and hoardings — on development projects initiated by Mamata Banerjee and seeking votes for Howrah candidate Prasun Banerjee — had been put up on a “private residence”.
The allegation of Trinamul supporters heckling a poll official enforcing the model code of conduct comes on the heels of a ruling party MLA and his associates allegedly abusing and assaulting a block development officer in North 24-Parganas for removing the chief minister’s pictures along a PWD road. In a revised complaint, the BDO has neither taken the MLA’s name nor retained his earlier allegation that the legislator had assaulted him.
According to a report by Soumen Acharya, an employee of the land and land revenue department in Howrah, he and his team had gone to Swami Vivekananda Road in Shibpur today to remove Trinamul’s campaign material when they were heckled.
Acting on the report, sub-divisional officer (headquarters) Bani Prasad Das, on whose orders the team had gone to remove the election paraphernalia, lodged a complaint with Shibpur police station. The complaint alleges “obstruction and heckling”, but does not mention any name.
Around 1pm, while Acharya and his team were removing the campaign posters bearing pictures of the chief minister and Trinamul all-India general secretary Mukul Roy, a group of around 200 people surrounded them.
“Some men in the crowd asked Acharya to produce his identity card to prove that he was authorised to remove the poll material. He showed the (SDO’s) letter but the men were not satisfied and pushed him,” an official said.
Sensing trouble, the poll officials left.
Partha Chatterjee, minister and Trinamul secretary-general, said the Election Commission’s actions were creating complications.
“The electoral procedure is being twisted by the commission and this is leading to complications. In many places, actions are not free from political bias and that is leading to problems,” he said.
Chatterjee’s cabinet colleague and Trinamul’s Howrah unit president Arup Roy denied that the poll officials had been heckled and said “our workers” had protested when some of the officials “stood on posters” of Mamata Banerjee.
“The posters had been put up on a private residence with prior permission, not on lampposts as claimed by the officials. Some of them (officials) were standing on the posters bearing our leaders’ pictures. Our workers merely protested against that,” Roy said.
The Bengal chief electoral officer’s office is yet to receive a report from the Howrah administration on the incident.
“We saw this on television in the afternoon. We will wait for the district magistrate’s action-taken report. Only then can we say what happened and what can be done,” said assistant chief electoral officer Amit Roy Chowdhury.
Asked if there was a communication breakdown as the chief electoral officer’s office seemed to be relying on news reports to get information on problems faced by poll officials, Roy Chowdhury said: “This is how we go about it. Before we receive the district administration’s report, we cannot comment on the matter.”
Responding to a question on what the office would do to ensure that such problems did not recur, he said: “We will do exactly what must be done, but within the bounds of procedure.”