Bengal chief secretary H.K. Dwivedi on Thursday asked district authorities to work in tandem with central forces which were deployed in the state for the rural polls to quell law and order problems.
Dwivedi issued the directive during a video-conference with district magistrates and superintendents of police. He asked the district authorities to set up a team comprising nodal officers representing the DM and the SP and the nodal officer of the central forces concerned.
“The chief secretary said violence-related information should be shared with the nodal officer of the central forces and action had to be taken to prevent any kind of violence,” said a source.
Sources said the state government wanted the active utilisation of the central forces in the post-poll period primarily for two reasons.
First, the state does not want to be held responsible for not utilising the central forces to prevent post-poll violence, particularly because they had been deployed following a high court order. Allegations have already been levelled against the State Election Commission (SEC) that it did not share information about sensitive booths with the central forces. IG BSF, who is responsible for the coordination with the SEC regarding the central forces, had cited the lack of information for not being able to deploy paramilitary personnel in sensitive booths.
Second, the government was serious about handling post-poll violence as some incidents like those at Bhangar, where three persons had been killed following the declaration of the results, were tarnishing the image of the state.
“The chief minister made it clear yesterday (Wednesday) that she had given a free hand to police to investigate post-poll violence and take action against all guilty people. So, there should not be any doubt about the state’s determination to deal with any kind of post-poll violence strictly. Involving the central forces is a part of the effort,” said a senior bureaucrat.
Ever since the panchayat polls had been announced in June, over 55 people had died.
The state home secretary has sent a letter to the district magistrates, directing that sensitive areas be identified and central forces be deployed there. The letter also said the authorities should use the central forces for route marches at trouble spots.
The home secretary asked the district authorities to ensure proper accommodation and logistics for the central forces. As directed by the high court on Wednesday, the central forces are likely to stay for more 10 days after the completion of the election process.
In a bid to avert violent incidents, the government also asked the district authorities to ban victory rallies under their respective jurisdictions.
“It had been noticed in the past that victory rallies often led to clashes. We want to nip the problem in the bud. So, any kind of rallies has been banned for now,” said a source.
A section of officials said the government was very cautious about handling post-poll violence this time because it had a bitter experience with alleged violence following the 2021 Assembly polls.
“The alleged post-poll violence had led to CBI inquiries and arrests of several ruling party workers. Moreover, the image of the ruling establishment was severely tarnished following the incidents. Now, the ruling establishment is careful because it does not want to face a similar situation ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” said a bureaucrat.
The state poll panel on Thursday cancelled elections at 20 booths in three districts after the respective district magistrates reported “snatching of ballot papers” during counting, thereby rendering it impossible to ascertain the results.
The booths include 15 in Sankrail block in Howrah, one in Singur in Hooghly and four in Habra 2 in North 24-Parganas. Fresh polls will be held at these booths, SEC sources said. However, no new date has been specified for the byelections.