A division bench of Calcutta High Court on Friday directed the West Bengal government and State Election Commission (SEC) to file separate reports on 4 May stating the measures taken to ensure protection of state government personnel deployed on panchayat election duty.
A division bench of acting Chief Justice Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya and Justice Arijit Banerjee passed the direction during the day after Sarkari Karmachari Parishad convenor Debasis Sil voiced concern over the safety of polling personnel to be deployed in the forthcoming panchayat election.
The state government personnel are living in fear for their lives as they feel they will not be safe if they are deployed for election duty under present security arrangements, Sil appearing in person submitted. Each polling booth requires at least three armed security personnel. However, while there are 58,000-odd polling booths, there are about 46,000 armed police personnel in the state, it was submitted.
At least, five poll personnel have to be deployed for each booth in the three-tier panchayat election. The total adds up to a large number of persons who would be inadequately protected if poll violence breaks out in the existing security framework, it was submitted.
Central para-military forces were deployed in 2013 panchayat elections. The democratic process of election would be affected if the state government employees deployed polling personnel in the rural polls are inadequately protected on the election day, it was submitted.
Moreover, state election commissioner AK Singh has not yet issued a notification announcing that a poll personnel’s next of kin would be given a sum of Rs 10 lakh in the event of his death on duty and an amount of Rs 5 lakh to be given to the poll personnel in case of serious injury, it was submitted.
During the course of a meeting with representatives, the election commissioner said he would issue this notification, but it is yet to come out. This is to be placed in the report, the Division Bench observed. They are seeking protection, it was further observed.
Earlier, IG (law and order) Anuj Sharma said that the figure stating the number of armed police personnel at the disposal of the state as placed by the petitioner is incorrect. There are more armed police personnel at its disposal, he submitted.
Later in the day, director general of police Surajit Kar Purakayastha assured that every polling premises would be covered by armed police personnel. He has sought cooperation of all for peaceful polling, he told in Nabanna.
Abiding by the High Court directive, State Election commissioner will meet the political parties tomorrow to apprise them and seek their opinion on the security arrangements for panchayat elections on 14 May.
The commission will hold separate meetings with the political parties and has asked two members from every party to attend the meet. The meeting will begin from 1 p.m. at the commission’s office at Rawdon Street.The court has asked the commission to discuss security arrangement with all the stakeholders.
The Opposition parties have strongly objected to holding the polls in a single day instead of three phases as announced by the commission earlier. They apprehended that ‘free and fair’ elections would not be possible as the state government does not possess adequate armed security forces for conducting polls in 20 districts together.
Sources in the commission said that the SEC will take note of the concerns raised by the political parties as well as provide an account of the proposed plan for security arrangement that was submitted by the director general of police. The SEC will also meet Anuj Sharma on Monday to get a final idea about booth-wise force deployment.
This apart, the commission has asked the DMs and SPs to submit the list of sensitive and very sensitive booths in rural Bengal.