Nomination filing for rural polls to be videotaped, says Bengal EC
The nomination process for the single-phase polls — to be held on July 8 — began on Friday and has been marked by clashes between workers of different parties
The West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) on Sunday ordered video recording of the nomination process for the high-stakes panchayat polls, amid a spate of violence in the state that has triggered a political tussle between the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and opposition parties.
The nomination process for the single-phase polls — to be held on July 8 — began on Friday and has been marked by clashes between workers of different parties.
A Congress worker was shot dead in Murshidabad district on the first day of submitting papers, and on Saturday, violence broke out in the state’s Birbhum and Bankura districts. The Opposition has blamed the TMC for the clashes and sought the deployment of central forces for “free and fair elections”.
The TMC has said that the Opposition was orchestrating the clashes in order to project a false narrative that there was lawlessness in the state.
“Looking at the ongoing violence in the process of nomination filing, the state election commissioner has ordered the videography of the nomination filing process in West Bengal Panchayat elections to be held on July 8 for the free and fair proceedings of nomination filing,” the poll panel said in a statement.
The statement came a day after state election commissioner Rajiva Sinha met governor CV Ananda Bose to explain the steps taken to curb the clashes.
Late on Sunday, the state poll panel issued an order imposing prohibitory orders under section 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure, forbidding the gathering of four or more people within a kilometre of nomination centres.
The last panchayat elections in 2018 witnessed large-scale violence and around 20 murders, with opposition parties alleging that their candidates were not allowed to file nominations and were intimidated. The TMC bagged around 90% of the seats, of which 34% were uncontested.
The Opposition also moved the Calcutta high court against the schedule of the panchayat poll, stating that the June 15 deadline to file nominations was not adequate. On Friday, the high court observed that the time period for filing nominations prima facie appeared to be inadequate. The hearing on the petitions is still underway.
The Opposition also alleged that civic police volunteers were being deployed in the state in the lead-up to the elections, a violation of the March 21 high court order, which said that “a civic volunteer cannot be entrusted with any law enforcement duties.” There are at least 70,000 civic volunteers in the state who get a monthly salary of ₹9,000.
The BJP said the civic volunteers were acting like “TMC cadre”. “We have information that civic volunteers in many areas have been asked to get police-like uniforms made for the panchayat polls. They are used in every election by the TMC to intimidate voters and candidates. In remote areas, they virtually run the police stations,” Bengal BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said.
CPI(M) state secretary Mohammed Salim said that the TMC was trying to “hoodwink” the judiciary and use the civic volunteers to intimidate political rivals.
“How can the state try to hoodwink the judiciary? Civic volunteers were recruited randomly before the last state polls as well. Many are TMC activists. Job insecurity, low pay, etc. prompt them to follow orders,” Salim said.
TMC MP Santanu Sen rejected the allegations. “The SEC never said civic volunteers would be used during the polls. Rather, he said that if required, additional forces would be brought in. Why are the opposition parties making baseless assumptions?” he said.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Sunday sent notices to the Centre, the Bengal government, and SEC, seeking reports on “human rights protection measures” taken. In a statement, the NHRC also said it has deputed its director general (investigation) as a special human rights observer to conduct an on-the-spot survey , in consultation with the SEC, to identify “sensitive constituencies” prone to violence in the upcoming polls.
(with PTI inputs)