A full bench of the Election Commission (EC), led by Chief Election Commissioner Dr Nasim Zaidi, said on Thursday that it is their endeavour to hold the next year’s Assembly polls in West Bengal in free, fair and peaceful manner and deploy central forces and IT-enabled efficient and smart observers for smooth conduct of election process.
“The Election Commission will perform its constitutional obligations and ensure that the Assembly elections in West Bengal are held in free, fair and peaceful manner,” Zaidi told a press conference here after a series of meetings with officials and political parties. “There will be 100 per cent availability of central paramilitary forces in all polling stations well in advance, who will be used for area domination and confidence-building measures. The EC-appointed observers will be looking into the booth-wise and area-wise deployment of the central forces… the observers will be from outside the state,” he said.
On allegations by Opposition parties of violence during the Lok Sabha poll, Zaidi said, “As Lok Sabha elections are held across the country, the availability of central forces was less. But this time, central paramilitary forces will be deployed at every booth and supervised directly by the ECI. There would be a minimum 2 to 3 layer security to ensure that voters reach the polling station without any threat and intimidation.”
On the law and order situation in the state, Zaidi said, “We came here to assess the situation. We have already directed our election machinery to take note of, record and document any incident with political overtones and provide it to the EC.”
He added the the EC would continue to assess the performance of district election officials and depending on the assessment and requirement, it would take appropriate action. “The EC will deploy IT-enabled, efficient and smart observers,” he said, adding if required, the number of observers will be increased.
The poll officer also announced three IT-related initiatives that have been taken up keeping elections in mind. “One is ‘Suvidha’, which is a single-window system where permissions for holding rallies, public meetings, loudspeakers, etc, will be given to parties in 24 hours. This has started operation from the recent Bihar polls. The second one is ‘Samadhan’, which is a grievance redressal system for complaints such as political reaction, electoral rolls, model code of conduct, and others. The third initiative is called ‘Sugam’, which will address payment issues related to transport operators from whom vehicles are requisitioned,” the CEC said.
Stating that the final electoral roll would be released on January 5, 2016, Zaidi added, “It is, however, subject to continuous updation.” He said around 31 lakh applications for new voters were received, of which 26 lakh were enrolled. Even as the state has a total of about 77,000 polling booths, the number could be enhanced if required, he said.
The CEC added that steps have also been taken to arrest those with criminal antecedents well ahead of the polls to avoid any untoward incidents.
Earlier in the day, representatives of various political parties met the EC bench to submit their suggestions. Opposition parties also urged Zaidi to conduct elections in five-seven phases for free and fair poll.
“We have said the tainted officials who had been accused of partiality in the last Lok Sabha polls should not be used,” CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb said after the meeting.
While CPM ally Forward Bloc has demanded elections to be held in six phases, a Congress delegation led by senior party leader Manas Bhunia requested the EC to ensure presence of adequate central forces ahead of the polls. “Central forces are needed to instil confidence among voters. We want elections in 5-6 phases,” Bhunia said.
BJP MLA Samik Bhattacharya told the EC officials that the state police should be kept away from the polling stations as they would act according to the instructions of the ruling party.
Meanwhile, the ruling Trinamool Congress delegation led by state parliamentary affairs minister Partha Chatterjee said they have urged the commission to ensure that all legal voters are enlisted in the voters’ list that will be released on January 5.