By bappaditya paul
WITH BARELY A WEEK TO GO for the two-phase civic polls in Bengal, the West Bengal state election commissioner S R Upadhaya on Friday said that “only the collective participation of people can ensure a free and fair elections.”
The remark comes amidst large-scale allegations of Trinamul Congress-backed attacks on candidates and workers of the Opposition political parties in several parts of the state and a lackadaisical attitude of the police to contain such violence.
The Opposition has already accused the poll panel of not asserting its Constitutional powers.
Mr Upadhaya, who was speaking at a Meet the Press event at Kolkata Press Club Friday afternoon, also defended the state government vis-à-vis requisitioning Central forces for the civic polls ~ a request that the Union government has turned down.
“We wrote to the state for Central troops on 19 March and the state in turn wrote to the Centre on 26 March and the Centre responded on 7 April. I don’t think there was any delay on the part of the state; even 15 days is not unusual for making an important move such as this,” he said.
Outlining the various measures that the poll panel is taking to monitor the elections, Mr Upadhaya said that he still believed: “The presence of Central force would have raised the confidence of the voters.”
The poll commissioner said he had written to the state Home Secretary on Thursday to know the number of Central troops that are posted in Bengal on other duties and whether they could be utilised for the civic polls.
The matter will come up for discussion in the high-level meet that the poll panel has convened on Saturday.
But even in admitting the utility of Central forces, Mr Upadhaya observed that: “No amount of external measures can guarantee a free polls. Only the collective participation of people can ensure a free and fair elections.”
He said that the concerned laws should be amended to give the state poll panel the right to set election dates for panchayat and civic bodies. Besides this, the absolute control of the state administration should be vested with the state poll panel during local body elections.
The poll commissioner informed that during the 18 and 25 April civic polls, 25 per cent of the polling booths would have video recording, 640 booths (320 in Kolkata) would have web casting facility, besides vehicle-based live monitoring from sensitive areas.
The civic poll EVMs will not have the NOTA button, as the state has not yet amended the corresponding law to introduce this option for local body polls.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 11 April 2015.)