There would be no panchayat polls without central forces, the State Election Commission (SEC) made this clear to the Mamata Banerjee administration on Thursday, even though Trinamool leaders and ministers continued to resist the move, saying that, ultimately, law and order is the responsibility of the state government.
Senior SEC officials told HT they had opted for the central armed forces since this was a tried and tested method for conducting free and fair polls. “It’s almost a guaranteed route to conducting impartial elections,” said an official who did not want to be named.
However, panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee told reporters on Thursday that the law and order situation in the state had not reached a position that warranted the deployment of central forces.
Mukherjee also brought up an additional point to bolster his argument: The deployment of central forces would cost the exchequer nearly Rs. 350 crore, which would be a burden to the cash-strapped government.
On Thursday, the SEC sent another letter to the government, raising concerns about security during the polls.
“We’ve raised a few points, the primary being the question of security forces,” said Tapas Ray, SEC secretary. Sources in the election panel told HT that it had been made clear to the government that there would be no panchayat polls without central forces.
“We require about 800 companies of central forces — 300 companies during the nomination phase and another 500 during the polling,” a senior official of the SEC said.
Earlier on Thursday, State Election Commissioner Mira Pandey met governor MK Narayanan for the second time to discuss the developments.
“The discussion was satisfactory,” was all that Pandey would say after the hour-long meeting.