NEW DELHI: Preparations for impending assembly polls in four states – West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala — and Union territory of Puducherry seem to have entered an advanced stage with the Election Commission holding discussions with the Union home secretary on Tuesday on the quantum of Central para-military forces to be deployed for poll security.
The meeting between the EC brass and home secretary Ajay Bhalla at Nirvachan Sadan came ahead of a visit by the Commission to West Bengal and Assam next week to assess poll preparedness. Deputy election commissioner in charge of West Bengal Sudeep Jain is currently touring the state, his second visit there in a month, to take stock of the preparations, while DG, ECI, Dharmendra Sharma is in Assam for the same purpose.
As per sources, the EC is said to have held three preliminary meetings at the level of the senior DEC Umesh Sinha and special secretary in the home ministry Praveen Kumar Srivastava, to discuss requirement vis-à-vis availability of Central forces, before Tuesday’smeeting at the level of the home secretary. The extent of forces to be spared by the home ministry will be crucial inputs for deciding the phases over which the upcoming assembly elections, particularly in West Bengal where political violence remains a major concern, will be held.
As per indications, polls in all the five states are likely to be completed before the CBSE Class XII and X exams begin on May 4. Given the law and order concerns in West Bengal, polls in the state being staggered over a good 5-7 phases, cannot be ruled out.
An official told TOI that with many opposition parties in West Bengal having expressed their apprehensions about impartiality of the state law and order machinery, during interactions with DEC Jain, EC is considering deployment of Central forces at all polling booths in West Bengal.
Meanwhile, EC sources said the number of polling stations in each of the five poll-bound states/UTs will increase as the poll panel intends to follow the Bihar poll template, when voters per polling booth were cut from 1,500 to 1,000. West Bengal itself will see addition of 22,000-23,000 polling stations.
EC is also planning to deploy a senior retired IPS officer as special police observer in West Bengal to oversee law and order matters during polls, apart from posting expenditure observers in Tamil Nadu and possibly West Bengal as well.