The Election Commission on Thursday said central police forces would man all polling booths during next year’s West Bengal assembly elections.
The requisition and deployment of the central forces 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 minimim 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”.
Zaidi said one of the main purposes of the Election Commission team’s visit was to assess the law and order and security environment.
“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.”
To repeated queries from the media about past complaints that the central police forces were not deployed properly in the state during polls and that the state machinery was not neutral, Zaidi said: “The central police forces, which are part of the election process, are on deputation to the Election Commission. The entire state level election machinery is also under deputation to the Election Commission.
“The observers — to be brought from other states — are our eyes and ears at the constituency level. The deployment of central police forces will be finally approved by the commission and the commission’s observers and the election machinery which is on deputation to us.”
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.
Putting stress on preparation of a correct voters’ list, he said: “The Election Commission would like to lay greater emphasis so that every eligible person is enrolled as a voter, and his name is not wrongfully deleted. This is an important focus for the commission’s visit.
“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.
“We have also directed the state election machinery to supply electronic photo identity cards to all new voters. Henceforth, as and when the vendors are in place, the newly registered voters should get coloured PVC electoral photo i-cards. And that would be a new initiative in the state,” Zaidi said.