For polls, government wants 300 companies in Maoist belt

TNN, Jan 10, 2011

KOLKATA: The state government wants over 300 companies of paramilitary forces for just West Midnapore in the 2011 assembly elections. That, if the elections are held in polling booths within vulnerable’ areas and not shifted out to more secure’ locations, which was how polling was conducted during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in Maoist-affected Lalgarh.

During a discussion with top administrative officers in Kolkata on Saturday, the Election Commission team chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi and election commissioners V S Sampath and H S Brahma asked West Midnapore DM Suresh Gupta and SP Manoj Verma about conducting elections in the trouble zone.

The EC team also wanted to know what kind of arms had been recovered after the Netai massacre on Friday.

In the 2006 assembly elections, when 600 companies of central paramilitary forces was deployed in Bengal in the five-phase polls, West Midnapore got 261 companies. But five years ago, only three police stations in the district Belpahari, Lalgarh and Binpur were Maoist-affected. Now, 12 of the 28 police station areas are Maoist affected. At least three police station areas Kharagpur, Keshiari and Garbeta border Maoist-hit zones and are also considered sensitive. There are also areas outside Maoist-affected regions that too are susceptible to violence, like Keshpur, Garbeta and Pingla.

According to an officer, “the district administration is not in favour of shifting polling booths outside vulnerable areas”, but that also means ensuring that enough forces are available. In the Lok Sabha polls of 2009, only 82 companies of central force was available for West Midnapore. “It was a really tough job to conduct the elections with such a small force,” the officer added.

The government feels that three police stations Gopiballabhpur, Sankrail and Beliabera currently manned by state jawans also need to be handed over to central forces. Apart from raising it with the EC, the state government is also going to knock on the Centre’s doors with this plea.

During the 2006 Assembly polls, there were no state police forces deployed in polling booths as per the instructions of the EC. “This time, there will be forceful allegations of bias against the state administration and the ruling party. So for the sake of peaceful, free and fair elections, more central forces are required for the district. That is why the administration has asked for such huge force, with over 300 companies for West Midnapore alone,” the officer added.

The EC team has asked the district administration to prepare three to four alternative plans for deployment of forces in West Midnapore, depending on the strength of the forces made available.

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