BUT BENGAL FINANCE DEPTT. PUTS A SPANNER IN THE PLAN
By bappaditya paul
The electoral authority in West Bengal is planning to use unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone for surveillance during the forthcoming by-poll in the state, but the Bengal finance department has sought to know whether this has the Election Commission’s (EC) clearance. The move to deploy drones for poll surveillance is something innovative and it will be a first for Indian elections, if the plan finally makes through. This will be in addition to measures like video recording in polling booths, posting micro observers and deployment of 100 companies of the Central force that the Election Commission (EC) has already confirmed.
As planned, five drones will be hired from a Kolkata based private firm and the firm will also operate them in collaboration with the district election authorities. While four drones will be used in the Bongaon Lok Sabha constituency in North 24-Parganas; a fifth one will be put to use in the Krishnaganj Assembly segment in Nadia. The two constituencies are going to by-poll on 13 February. “The drones will be mainly deployed three days in advance of the poll in sensitive areas that are prone to violence before or during the polls,” said a source in the office of the Bengal Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). “Cameras that come in-built in a drone, will stream live video feeds to five separate consoles installed in the election control rooms. The idea is to enable the law and order machinery to preempt an untoward incident in and around a polling booth and act promptly,” the source explained.
The move will cost around Rs 2-lakh and the CEO’s office wrote to the Bengal finance department for approving the proposed expenditure. Finance department’s concurrence is needed as it is the state government that initially provides fund for a Lok Sabha poll and the Centre reimburses it later.
But much to the surprise of the CEO’s office, the finance department today wrote back, asking whether the plan to deploy drones for poll surveillance has the EC’s clearance. During the 2011 Bengal Assembly poll when the same CEO’s office introduced webcasting from polling booths, and later during the 2013 Howrah Lok Sabha by-poll introduced a live monitoring system (LMS) with cameras mounted on vehicles, the state finance department did not raise any question.
“The fact is that the CEO’s office always keeps the EC in the loop before proposing any new step during an election or otherwise. The finance department is well aware of this and hence it is astonishing that they have still sent such a query,” said a senior official unwilling to be named.
The CEO Mr Sunil Kumar Gupta reserved a comment on the development on the plea that he had not personally gone through the concerned file yet.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 03 February 2015.)