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Tandon raps Left for criticising observers

Written by: Staff

Kolkata, Mar 22: Coming to the defence of the observers in West Bengal, Chief Election Commissioner B B Tandon today said the poll panel was not happy with the ''unwarranted and uncalled for'' criticism against them and asserted that the Election Commission (EC) was resolute in pushing through its measures to ensure ''free and fair'' polling in the state.

'' We are aware of some unwarranted and uncalled for criticism about the role of our observers in the state. The Commission is not happy with this...no criticism can deter us from discharging our duty,'' he said at a press conference winding up his two-day pre-poll visit to the city.

Speaking for the first time after the ruling Left Front put the observers under fire for initiating ''indiscriminate measures'', Mr Tandon said the EC representatives had done ''very good work'' in cleaning up the electoral rolls and made it clear that whatever action they had taken will be supported by the Commission.

'' They are the representatives of the EC. All of them are senior bureaucrats having enough experience in conducting elections. They discharged responsibility at our instance,'' he said. Without naming any party.

His statement came a day after Mr Biman Bose, Chairman of the CPI(M)-led ruling Left Front, had alleged that the observers were committing excesses and entertaining whatever complaints the opposition parties were lodging.

Mr Bose had further alleged that the observers were also violating the Representation of People's Act to ask MPs to prove their nationality and urged the EC to issue guidelines to its representatives specifying their rights.

However, Mr Tandon brushed aside the allegation saying the observers were ''fully conversant'' with various provisions of the constitution and rules. '' They have gone to various parts of the country to perform duties at different levels,'' he said.

Veteran CPI(M) leader Jyoti Basu had also criticised the role of the observers and called for protecting the genuine voters in the drive for revision of the voters' list.

In reply to a question as to what was the reason for ordering a five-phase polling in the state, Mr Tandon said it had the ''broad objective of ensuring free and fair polling'' in West Bengal.

'' I am not aware of any certificate for peaceful elections issued by the Commission after previous elections. We are only trying to do the task before us, to the best of our ability,'' he said when his attention was drawn to a recent comment by Mr Basu.

Crying foul over the EC's decision to hold elections in five phases, the Left leaders had described the move as ''unnecessary and uncalled for'' while Mr Basu had said it was insulting the people of West Bengal.

During his two-day visit Mr Tandon was accompanied by Election Commisioners N Gopalswamy and Navin Chawla and Deputy Election Commissioner R Balakrishnan.

However, while the CPI(M) complained to the commission during a meeting yesterday that the names of many genuine voters had been struck off from the rolls on the basis of fake complaints, Mr Tandon announced that the EC had set up two teams, each comprising with two officials, to inquire into such complaints. Yesterday the full bench of EC held separate meetings with altogether ten political parties to receive their complaints before meeting several NGOs who put up their suggestions to ensure free and fair polling.

One area of concern expressed by all political parties was that exit polls might influence the voting pattern in the areas going to polls in the subsequent phases. While there was a court order upholding the right to conduct such polls, Mr Tandon said the EC had already requested the Centre to bring an amendment to the concerned law to enforce restriction on exit polls.

The CEC reiterated that revision of the rolls was the "top priority" of the Commission and the process would continue till the last date for filing of nomination.

He said the central para military force would be sent in advance in adequate number to all the polling booths in the state going to polls between April 17 and May eight.

" We have issued instruction to give level playing field to all the political parties. Action will be taken against the election officials, found wanting in implementing the order," he said.

The EC also directed that prompt action should be taken against any act of "intimidation or terrorising" the voters, he said.

Mr Tandon said altogether 361 EC observers, including 294 for each of the constituency, would be supervising polling in the state.

The rest 67 would be observers for monitoring election expenses.

In reply to a question on the measures to ensure smooth polling in the Maoist dominated districts in the state, the CEC said the Commission was taking all possibile measures, including deployment of "sufficient" central forces to those areas.

The EC also talked to the Chief Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Director General of Police, the Commissioner of Police, the District collectors, District Electoral Officers and Superintendents of Police in a string of meetings during these two days to review the state's poll preparedness, the law and order situation and requirement of security force, among other things.


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