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HC orders deployment of 82k central force personnel for Bengal rural poll

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Kolkata The Calcutta high court on Wednesday told the West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) to ask for 82,000 central force personnel in the next 24 hours in an effort to stave off violence ahead of the panchayat polls in a state where political clashes have already allegedly claimed eight lives.

On Tuesday, SEC asked for 22 companies of central forces [each comprises around 80 active personnel] hours after the Supreme Court approved the deployment of central forces and junked pleas filed by the state government and SEC against the high court order in the matter.

“The SEC shall within 24 hours, requisition sufficient number of central forces to be deployed in all the districts. The number of companies shall be not less than the force which was requisitioned for the 2013 election. It has to be definitely more as the number of districts has increased. The electorate would have also increased in these ten years,” a division bench of HC presided over by chief Justice TS Sivagnanam said.

The HC was informed that in 2013, when the state comprised 17 districts, panchayat elections were held in five phases. Alongside 105,000 state police personnel, 82,000 paramilitary personnel were deployed. In the 2018 panchayat polls, central forces were not deployed.

With around 62,000 polling stations in the state the elections to the three-tier panchayat system scheduled to be held in one phase on July 8, the high court said that 1,700 paramilitary personnel (22 companies) would be thoroughly inadequate.

The division bench slammed the state poll panel and pulled up state election commissioner Rajiva Sinha. “We have no hesitation in our mind to hold the order has not been complied with in letter and spirit. We fail to understand why the State Election Commission is still not taking an independent decision on the matter. if it is very difficult for the commissioner to take orders, he can step down…,” it said. Top SEC officials refused to comment, saying the poll panel will abide by the court orders.

“I had filed a contempt petition. Wednesday’s orders are very clear. Paramilitary personnel, more than that was deployed in 2013, will now have to be deployed. The TMC went on a looting spree. Eight persons have been killed so far,” Suvendu Adhikari, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator, told the media.

“Holding elections cannot be a licence to commit violence… If the candidates are unable to file nomination or if they are finished off while they are going to file it, then where is the free and fair election?” a top court bench of justices BV Nagarathna and Manoj Mishra said.

“There are close to 62000 polling stations. Nomination has been peaceful in most places. In around 5-8 places the opposition triggered violence. They want these pictures of violence to run on media, so that courts may be influenced and they will create a narrative and do politics over it…,” Kunal Ghosh, TMC spokesperson, told the media.

Meanwhile, the HC directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe into alleged tampering of documents and misrepresentation of information by a returning officer in Howrah. Justice Amrita Sinha directed CBI joint director to probe into the allegation by July 5 and submit a report before the court on July 7, a day before the polls are scheduled. Two petitions in this regard were filed by CPI(M) candidates.