There won’t be any panchayat elections if the Mamata Banerjee administration fails to arrange security forces, state election commissioner Mira Pande warned on Monday - a day before the poll panel drags the state government to the High Court again. “We would inform the court of the impasse over security forces. The SEC would not go forward with the polls unless we get the requisite number of forces we asked for,” Pande said after a 40-minute long meeting with senior bureaucrats of the state government.
SEC advocate Amrita Pandey on Monday served notice to the state advocate Paritosh Sinha and advocate general Bimal Chatterjee. The division bench of Chief justice Arun Mishra and justice Joymalya Bagchi would hear the matter on Tuesday.
State panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee however maintained that elections would be held on time. The three-phase poll scheduled on July 2, July 6 and July 9.
SEC insiders said that the poll panel would leave it upon the court to decide on whether to go forward with the rural polls without security. If the high court asks for any suggestion from the poll panel, the SEC might come up with a plan to split the phases. “If the court asks for our suggestion we would request the court to split the phases - probably into four or more phases or regroup the districts so that there are equal number of polling booths in all the phases,” said a SEC official.
On Monday the SEC shot a letter to the state government asking it to furnish the details of the security forces. The state is preparing its response, chief secretary Sanjoy Mitra said.
Back in the poll panel’s office Pande, after extensive parleys with chief secretary Sanjay Mitra and ADG (law and order) Banibrata Basu, said that the government has failed to arrange for adequate security personnel and also failed to specify whether it could meet the shortfall from other states or the Centre. “The government has failed to arrange for security personnel both during the nomination phase and the campaigning phases. There are law and order concerns in some areas and complaints are pouring in,” the poll panel chief said.
According to SEC estimates around 1. 49 lakh security personnel (armed and unarmed) are required to conduct the first phase poll on July 2. Sources in the state secretariat said that the state has around 48,000 armed police personnel in its reserves. The maximum number of security personnel would be required in the first phase as nine districts including three Maoist-infested districts and densely populated districts such as Howrah and North 24 Parganas would be going on polls in that phase.
The Mamata Banejee administration had earlier approached at least seven states for borrowing forces but drew a blank. The centre had earlier refused to lend out forces but union home ministry official later said that they could send at the most 5,000 central armed police force personnel. “We would be approaching the centre for the second time to borrow forces. Three states, which had earlier given verbal assurance to lend their forces, are yet to come up with any confirmation. We are trying our best to arrange as many forces as we can,” Mitra said.
If the first phase is split or the districts are regrouped then the problem could be solved with whatever police force the state has in it's own reserves.