April 16, 2009 2:20:30 am
In one of the bloodiest starts to an election in recent times,nine security personnel,five polling officers and two civilians were killed today by Naxalites in Bihar,Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh as Phase I of polling saw moderate to brisk voting in 124 constituencies the majority lie in the Naxal red corridor across 17 states and Union Territories.
Late tonight,a fierce gunbattle was on in Malkangiri in Orissa after Naxalites attacked BSF and Special Operations Group personnel who were returning from the Vejingiwada forests in Kalimela. DIG (South West Range) Sanjeeb Panda said the Naxalites attacked the joint patrol by detonating landmines in MV-29 village. When reports last came in,the security personnel,who had been encircled,were returning fire. Casualties,if any,were not known. We have over 150 securitymen at the spot to fight the Naxalites, IG (Operations) Sudhansu Sarangi said.
Nearly 70 incidents of poll disturbances,including gunbattles,attacks on polling parties and looting of electronic voting machines,were reported from these states where the overall polling percentage was estimated to be a healthy 60 per cent. Election Commission estimates put the percentage around 58 to 62 per cent. Officials in the Home Ministry admitted that violence figures could go up given the possibility of Naxal attempts to ambush more poll parties and security forces returning with EVMs from interior areas.
Many of these EVMs are being kept in cluster points set up in local police stations. The Naxal threat is not over till the paramilitary personnel return safely with the EVMs, a Home Ministry official said. He added that there were plans to use helicopters to airlift EVMs tomorrow from remote areas in Naxalite-hit regions.
Questions are already being asked whether adequate number of security forces were made available for the polls, whether they were deployed at the right places. For example,in Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh last November, only one incident of violence was reported from the entire state. At that time,about 300 companies of paramilitary forces had been deployed in the state. This time the number was only 160.
Jharkhand received 96 companies of Central forces this time while Bihar got even less. But,as a senior Home Ministry official pointed out,the number of paramilitary forces was not limitless and it would be incorrect to compare the number at the disposal of a state government during an Assembly election with what is given during a Parliamentary election which is spread across the country.
Sources said this constraint of security forces was the reason for having elections in the first phase in areas worst hit by Naxalites. A large number of security forces had been sent to these states for pre-election deployment. Concerns have also been expressed whether the Election Commission,which had been demanding more forces from the Home Ministry,had been able to deploy the personnel at the most sensitive places.
Sources said the Election Commission might have to order repoll in 70-80 polling booths from where either EVMs were looted or other malpractices have been reported. Close to 70,000 polling booths were set up in the Naxal-affected districts.
Six BSF personnel were killed in Latehar district of Jharkhand when the bus they were travelling in was blown by a landmine set by the Naxalites. The driver and conductor of the bus were also killed. In Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh,five members of a reserve poll party,who were travelling without any security,died in another landmine blast. In addition,a CRPF jawan was killed in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh while a Home Guard and a State Armed Police personnel were killed in Gaya district of Bihar.
Home Ministry sources said the surge in Naxalite attacks in the last 4-5 days could be attributed to the pro-active approach adopted by the security forces to foil the designs to disrupt the poll process.
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