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22 May 2017

If 18 voters did die, ghosts must have voted in this booth - Votes cast appear to exceed number of living and listed people in a slice of Pujali that went to municipal polls

Sandip Chowdhury in Pujali (South 24-Parganas), TT, The seemingly mathematical impossibility has been recorded in a booth in Pujali, a South 24-Parganas municipality 30km from Calcutta, where elections were held on May 14.
According to the electoral rolls, Booth 22 of Ward 10 at Pujali has 688 voters. As many as 682 people cast their votes at the booth on Sunday, the office of the Alipore sub-divisional officer, the returning officer for the Pujali civic election, has confirmed.
A rebel Trinamul candidate won from the Ward - and she immediately returned to the Trinamul fold.
But BJP district president Abhijit Das claimed his party had collected copies of the death certificates of 18 of these voters.
The Telegraph tried to independently verify the BJP leader's claim over multiple names. It found that at least five of the 18 voters named by the BJP leader had passed away before the elections were held.
This newspaper could not verify the other names because soon after this reporter visited the four homes (in one home a couple had died), bike-borne youths began zipping around. The reporter left the place as visits to more houses could have put the residents at risk of retribution.
BJP leader Das showed copies of 18 death certificates to this reporter. While this newspaper cannot vouchsafe the authenticity of all the 18 documents, five of the copies - which the reporter chose at random from the list of 18 - matched the originals at the four homes.
The five people whose death this reporter could verify with their families are Bimal Das, Tinku Mondal, Lakshmi Kanta Das, Jugal Das and his wife Binapani Das.
Number of voters: 688
Voters said to have died before the polls: 18
Votes cast: 682
If 18 voters indeed died before the polls, simple arithmetic suggests the number of genuine voters for Booth 22, therefore, cannot exceed 670.
Even if all the 670 living voters had voted, the figures would suggest that at least 12 "ghost voters" also did.
Several genuine voters said that when they visited the booth, they found their votes had already been cast - which implies the number of false votes was higher than 12.
One of these ghost votes was cast in the name of Bimal Das, 65, whose widow Maya said the former Kalipur Jute Mill worker had died on May 7 last year at MR Bangur Hospital.
"When I went to the booth to vote, I saw that the voter list with the poll officials had his name and there was a tick mark against it," Maya, 60, told this newspaper at her mud house in Ramchandrapur, Pujali.
She said she was told that her vote too had already been cast. "I had gone to vote around 12.30pm. I was told, ' Dida chole jao, tomar vote hoye gechhe (Go back home, grandma, your vote has been cast)'," Maya said.
Sukhdeb Mondal, a day labourer who too lives in Ramchandrapur, had a similar story.
His brother Tinku, a 35-year-old who laid underground cables for a telecom major, had died on January 8 at SSKM Hospital.
"I arrived at the booth around 10.30am but the Trinamul agent told me, ' Bhai, ja hatey kali lagiye ne, tor vote hoye gechhe (Bro, get your finger inked, your vote has been cast)'," Sukhdeb said.
When he demanded proof, Sukhdeb said, he was shown a list that had a tick against his name. "There was a tick against my dead brother's name as well," he said.
Das, the district BJP chief, said his party was planning to move court.
"We have a copy of the voters' list as our polling agents were at the booth," he said. "Of the 688 voters, at least 18 have died in the past one year or so but their names are still on the rolls and several of them seem to have voted on May 14."
The Pujali municipality had been a Congress stronghold since its formation in 1996. In the civic polls of July 2011, Trinamul won only four of the 15 seats but after the results were announced, all the victorious candidates from other parties joined Bengal's ruling party, allowing it to form the board.
This time, Trinamul won 13, including the Independent who returned to its fold, of the 16 seats (delimitation has added a ward) but the three other winners - two from the BJP and one Left-backed Congress councillor - have defected to it.
Before the elections this time, a high-profile Trinamul leader had told local party leaders at a rally in April that he wanted all of Pujali's 16 wards. "If a leader sets such a target, it is bound to lead to rampant vitiation of the poll process. That's what we want to highlight in court," said Das, a two-time BJP Lok Sabha candidate from Diamond Harbour.
Lakshmi Kanta Das, 65, another Kalipur Jute Mill worker, had died at RG Kar Medical College and Hospital in April last year. Binapani Das, 70, passed away at her home, also in 2016. Their votes too were cast on May 14, their families said.
Fazlul Haque, local Trinamul politician and chairman of the Pujali municipality since 1996 when the Congress ruled the board, contended that everyone who is on the rolls can vote. "All are allowed to vote as long as their names are on the voter list. If dead people's names are not struck off, that's not our responsibility. It's the job of the Election Commission."
State election commission secretary Osman Gani said: "We have no information about dead voters. We adopt the Election Commission of India's electoral rolls and lack the power to make any changes."
The Election Commission updates the rolls between September and November every year, for which it is supposed to conduct a door-to-door survey with the help of mostly local body employees to identify dead, absent and shifted voters.
Since this is a difficult and not entirely foolproof operation, the panel also expects family members of dead, absent and shifted voters to notify it during the exercise, usually conducted at the local booth (where new voters too are enrolled).
If any voter dies between November and the following September and an election is held during this period, his name is expected to be on the rolls.
Some of the dead voters this newspaper identified in Pujali, however, died before November last year, according to their families. For instance, Bimal Das died in May last year and Lakshmi Kanta Das in April last year.

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