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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

Lok Sabha elections 2019: Ending liquor smuggling to Gujarat biggest challenge for poll officials

Officials say holding elections in Balaghat and Mandla, the two Naxal affected districts in the state, is also a challenge further compounded by communication dark spots in these districts.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Apr 02, 2019 22:20 IST
Punya Priya Mitra and Shruti Tomar
Punya Priya Mitra and Shruti Tomar
Hindustan Times, Bhopal
According to the Election Commission of India figures, with the model code of conduct in place, Gujarat has reported the fifth highest seizure of liquor in the country. (HT file photo)
According to the Election Commission of India figures, with the model code of conduct in place, Gujarat has reported the fifth highest seizure of liquor in the country. (HT file photo)
         

Liquor smuggling from neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, mainly from Jhabua and Alirajpur, to dry Gujarat remains the foremost challenge for the officials in both the states to ensure free and fair polls.

According to the Election Commission of India figures, with the model code of conduct in place, Gujarat has reported the fifth highest seizure of liquor in the country. Till March 26, officials have seized 1.8 lakh litre of liquor in the state. In Madhya Pradesh, the figure stands at 1.5 lakh litre, which is the seventh highest. Officials contend that 25 per cent of the liquor seized was destined for Gujarat.

“Liquor is smuggled from Madhya Pradesh to Gujarat throughout the year, but it increases exponentially during polls and it is a challenge because liquor is used to influence the voters, mainly in the tribal belt of Gujarat,” said a senior police official who did not wish to be named.

The same officer also said that local district police and excise officials are often involved in the liquor smuggling that has a well-oiled machinery adept at greasing palms. “Our only hope is to keep on changing duties of local officials, use central forces and do random and surprise checking along the borders,” said the same official.

Benedict Damor, a Jhabua-based social worker, said, “Liquor plays an important role in elections, be it local or national in the tribal areas. Tribals expect liquor to be given and whatever the political parties might say, everyone is guilty of using liquor coupled with meat to lure voters.”

Madhya Pradesh’s top election officer said the police have been told to be vigilant.

VL Kantharao, MP Chief electoral officer, said, “We have given special instructions to the district administration and police officers to pay extra attention in the bordering areas, especially in Jhabua and Alirajpur bordering dry state Gujarat. From the day election notification was issued, we have seized 1.5 lakh litre of liquor from across the state and by our estimate around 25 per cent of this was going to Gujarat.”

Jhabua district collector Prabal Sepaha too echoed similar sentiments.

“We had a cross border meeting with the collectors so that we can plan accordingly. There are nine bordering points so we have deployed surveillance team consisting of officers from the police department, excise department, district administration. These teams change position according to movement of the teams in Gujarat in an alternative manner so that larger area or small approaching roads could also be covered,” said Sepaha.

There are other challenges too. Officials say holding elections in Balaghat and Mandla, the two Naxal affected districts in the state, is also a challenge further compounded by communication dark spots in these districts.

A senior officer in that region said, “Maoist violence during polls cannot be ruled out because of the publicity they gain at that time. Troop movement will be of critical importance and manning isolated polling booths is another issue. But we are prepared.”

To overcome the communication challenge, the forces are being provided 12 satellite phones and two choppers for emergency, said an official. CEO Rao said they have approached a private telecom company to provide mobile connectivity in these dark spots. “The matter is pending with ECI, and we are hopeful it will be completed before elections.”

Holding elections to nine Lok Sabha seats bordering Uttar Pradesh is yet another challenge, because not only are they prone to violence, this time they have different governments. “Of the nine seats, we are focusing on Morena, Satna and Rewa, because they are the most sensitive,” a senior official said.

A DGPs meeting of all the five bordering states was held in Bhopal on March 15 to iron out these differences.

First Published: Apr 02, 2019 22:20 IST