Kolkata, The Election Commission on Thursday said central police forces would guard all polling booths during next year’s West Bengal assembly elections and asserted that the forces’ deployment would be done under the supervision of the poll panel and its appointed observers.
The full bench of the poll panel, which held day-long parleys with political parties, bureaucrats, police officers, district magistrates, police superintendents and other officials, directed state government officials, who will be part of the election machinery, to remain “impartial”.
“The central police forces will be requisitioned, deployed and employed effectively under the supervision of the Election Commission and its appointed observers,” Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi told the media here.
All the opposition parties, which met the Election Commission team, demanded that central forces be posted in all polling booths to ensure free and fair elections and their deployment should not be left in the hands of the state administration and police.
Zaidi assured that there would be no dearth of central forces.
“When parliamentary elections are conducted all over the country, availability of central forces becomes a challenge. However, in the upcoming assembly polls, the commission will ensure that central police forces are deployed at every polling booth.”
The central forces will be engaged in area domination, and there would be a minimum two-three layered security to ensure voters are able to get out of their home and reach the polling stations “without any threat and intimidation”.
“And we have already directed our election machinery to take note of any incident in the state which has political overtones, document it and profile it. And keep watch on it.”
“The observers — to be brought from other states — are our eyes and ears at the constituency level.”
Asked whether the Election Commission planned to send a team of observers to assess the state’s law and order situation, he said: “If required we will send.”
Zaidi laid strong emphasis on maintaining “transparency” and “neutrality”.
“All officials of the state government who will be part of the election machinery have been directed to remain totally neutral, impartial, fair and just when they are conducting the election process,” he said.
He said the political parties requested that adequate protection should be given to officials connected to the polling process, and a proper environment created so that all parties could campaign during the election process.
“The commission has taken note of these suggestions and concerns raised by the political parties and the commission has assured them that that an effective system will be put in place so that the elections are peaceful, free and fair.
“The commission has directed the state election machinery to ensure effective monitoring, vigilance, comprehensive planning and discipline at all levels.”
Putting stress on preparation of a correct voters’ list, he said every eligible person should be enrolled as a voter, with none’s name wrongfully deleted.
“No voter should be denied the opportunity to participate in the voting process. And this responsibility lies with the district election officer, or the DMs and the SPs.”
Asked what action the Election Commission would take if some election officials were seen violating the poll process, as was alleged during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he said: “We will consider and take appropriate action in appropriate time. We will continue to assess officials who are likely to be associated with the election process.
“And after making careful assessment and dissemination, we will take appropriate action when the elections are announced.”
Zaidi also stressed bringing on more women and youth in the electoral rolls, the final versions of which will be brought out on January 5.
He said the state election machinery has received 31 lakh applications for addition to the electoral roll. Twenty six lakh applications have already been accepted.
Zaidi said 10 percent of the 77,000 polling stations lacked electricity and permanent ramps for the physically challenged people, but the administration has assured that maximum number of booths would have the facilities by the time of the election.