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regular-article-logo Monday, 20 May 2024

Election Commission of India unsure whether paramilitary jawans will be deployed at all booths

Possibility of more central forces reaching Bengal before first phase of elections on April 19 is thin as 102 Lok Sabha constituencies across country will go to polls same day

Saibal Gupta Calcutta Published 05.04.24, 10:09 AM
Paramilitary personnel interact with local people during a route march in Nadia on Tuesday, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections

Paramilitary personnel interact with local people during a route march in Nadia on Tuesday, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections PTI picture

The Election Commission of India is unsure whether paramilitary jawans will be deployed at all 5,814 booths in three Lok Sabha constituencies which will go to the polls in Bengal on April 19 because of the lack of troops.

"A rough estimate shows we will require a total of 270 companies of central forces to guard all 5,814 booths. But right at the moment, a total of 177 companies are deployed in the state. There is uncertainty on whether we will get more central forces before the first phase," said a source in the poll panel.

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According to the source, the possibility of more central forces reaching Bengal before the first phase of the elections on April 19 is thin as 102 Lok Sabha constituencies across the country will go to the polls the same day.

Of the 177 companies deployed in the state at present, 160 could be used in the first phase, said the source.

A company of central force has an effective strength of 85 jawans. According to norms, at least four jawans or a half-section of the force have to be deployed at a booth. The situation has left the poll panel in a spot as Opposition parties, mainly the BJP, were demanding the deployment of central forces at all booths in all 42 constituencies in the state.

In a bid to find a solution, the chief electoral officer in Bengal, Aariz Aftab, has convened an urgent meeting on Saturday where the nodal officer from the state police, Anand Kumar, the nodal officer from the central armed paramilitary forces, (CAPF), B.K. Sharma, special police observer Anil Kumar Sharma, and special general observer Alok Sinha will be present.

"The meeting will be held at the BSF guest house on Ballygunj Circular Road.... The special police observer would reach the city on Saturday and would take part in the meeting. It is assumed that the special observers will send a requisition for central forces to the EC. But it is still not clear whether the demand will be met," said another source.

According to sources, the EC had earlier sent a requisition of 920 companies of central forces to the Union home ministry to conduct elections in Bengal. Of them, 150 companies were sent to the state even before the elections were announced. Later, 27 more companies reached Bengal.

"But now, it is not clear whether the Centre will be able to send more forces ahead of the first phase of the polls," said a source.

Apart from guarding the booths, the commission had plans to deploy central forces in the Quick Response Team (QRT) and for area domination and patrolling.

"If we plan to deploy central forces in all booths and use them for quick response and area domination and patrolling, we would require at least 320 companies in the first phase. It is unlikely that the Centre will send so many companies for the first phase. In later phases, we can get more forces as polling in the majority of states will be over by the second phase of polls on April 26," said a source.

Asked how the CEO office was trying to meet the shortfall, the official said: "Still there is time. We have requested the commission. Now everything depends on them... In case, we don't get central forces, we would have to depend on state forces."

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