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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 24 April 2024

Panchayat polls: Election Commission requests Union home ministry for additional 800 companies of central armed forces

Earlier, following a Supreme Court direction to deploy central forces, the commission had asked for only 22 companies of CAPF which the High Court found grossly 'inadequate'

Sougata Mukhopadhyay Published 22.06.23, 04:57 PM
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Relenting in the face of a Calcutta High Court order which came down heavily on the West Bengal State Election Commission for failing to implement its order of making sufficient security arrangements to ensure free, fair and violence-free panchayat polls in Bengal, the state poll body sent a requisition to the Union home ministry for an additional 800 companies of central armed forces for conduct of panchayat polls.

The requisition letter was sent by the commission on Thursday, inside the 24-hour deadline marked by the court.

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Earlier, following a Supreme Court direction to deploy central forces, the commission had asked for only 22 companies of CAPF, one company each for the 22 districts where elections are supposed to be held on July 8, which the High Court found grossly “inadequate”. The court lashed out at the commission for dragging its feet over the securing assistance from the Centre in the wake of intense violence reported from various pockets of the state during the submission of nomination phase.

Taken together, 822 companies of central forces are likely to be deployed across the state by Friday afternoon, Commission sources revealed. Sources also confirmed that the Commission has also kept doors open for seeking more central forces in the run up to the polls, over and above the 822 companies is has asked so far, depending on the law and order situation at the rural grassroots of the state.

Ever since the panchayat elections were declared on June 8, sporadic yet intense political violence in some pockets of the state have unofficially claimed nine lives, five of whom were killed in clashes over filing of nominations.

The Chief Justice’s Division Bench had also set a benchmark of not deploying less than the number of central jawans it had done during the 2013 rural polls. In 2013 the Commission, then headed by now-former IAS Mira Pandey, had requisitioned 825 CAPF companies for the conduct of polls.

Flaying the newly-appointed commissioner Rajiva Sinha for his dilly-dally over requisitioning adequate central forces, the High Court stated on Wednesday: “You have gone to highest Court, now accept their judgment. If it is difficult for the Commissioner to take orders, he can step down and the Governor may appoint someone else.”

The court is scheduled to take up the matter again for hearing on Friday to review steps taken by the commission in connection with force deployment and whether the court-directed deadline was adhered to by the poll conducting body. It is not clear though whether the amount of central force deployment would satisfy the Bench, given that the current number still falls short of the 2013 figure even if it’s by a slender margin.

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