Ahead of the upcoming Assembly polls in the State of West Bengal, the Election Commission (EC) has intensified its efforts to ensure a free and fair election. The state has witnessed rampant political violence in the past. Even in the 2018 Panchayat polls, several instances of ballot box looting, attacks and murder were reported. Hence, a number of steps have been taken to ensure free and fair elections.
One lakh paramilitary forces to be deployed
The nodal election body has taken several steps to deter instances of violence and vote tampering. As per reports, a whopping 1 lac Central para-military forces will be deployed in West Bengal for the upcoming polls. It is expected that about 1000 companies of CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) will be sent to West Bengal, in light of the political violence in the State. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, about 750 companies of Central forces with over 75,000 -80,000 personnel were deployed in West Bengal.
An Election Commission official informed, “More than 750 companies of Central forces were deployed during the last Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal. Since the upcoming polls are only in five states, unlike the countrywide parliamentary pot, the availability of forces is bound to be more.” However, the decision regarding troop deployment will be finalized following discussions with the Union Home Ministry. In the 2016 State Assembly elections, a total of 726 companies of CRPs were deployed in the State.
EC to appoint special police observer in West Bengal
Opposition parties in West Bengal have raised concerns about the ‘neutrality’ of the State police, often accused of working as ‘party cadres’ of the ruling Trinamool Congress. The state government has however assured the Election Commission of upholding the law and order situation in West Bengal. Reportedly, the nodal election body will monitor the polls by deploying a special police observer, as it did in 2019 General Elections. At the same time, the number of polling stations will also be increased in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The randomisation of Police posting in elections
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had earlier said that the election body has zero-tolerance for money power, muscle power and misuse of the government machinery. As observed during the last year’s Bihar polls, police personnel will not be deployed in the area where they serve or are registered as voters. Experts are of the view that the Election Commission wants to disrupt the underlying connections between the police and the local leaders of the incumbent political dispensation.
Election Commission announces launch of E-voter cards
Ahead of the West Bengal polls, the EC will launch the Electors Photo Identity Cards (e-EPICs) today. “Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad will launch the e-EPIC programme and distribute e-EPICs and Elector Photo Identity Cards to five new voters,” the nodal election body said. Voters can download their e-EPICs through nvsp.in, voterportal.eci.gov.in, and the Voter Helpline app.
BJP writes to EC over electoral roll anomalies, Burq-clad voters
In a letter to the Election Commission of India (ECI), the State unit of the BJP has expressed concerns over identity verification and vote fraud by ‘Burkha-clad voters’ ahead of upcoming elections in West Bengal. “From the draft electoral list that was made public on 18 November, it was noticed that there has been a sharp rise in the numbers of electors, especially in many parts that are very close to the Bangladesh border and those that are predominantly minority voters,” the letter emphasised.
The BJP pointed out that there has been a 10% rise in the number of voters in the ward No. 66 of the Kasba Vidhan Sabha constituency, despite no ‘new township or settlement’. The party alleged that a similar increase in electorates has been observed in Metiabruz constituency and Sonarpur Uttar in South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. “Also, we find that dead voters and those who have changed their dwelling place are not struck out from the voter’s list. In the past elections, it has been seen these votes have also been cast,” the letter added.