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2 Jun 2018

Poll panel orders Bengal voter list 'clean-up'

Pranesh Sarkar and Meghdeep Bhattacharyya, TT, Jun 02, 2018, Calcutta/New Delhi: The Election Commission has ordered a pre-revision "clean-up" of Bengal electoral rolls by August to ensure removal of absentee, shifted and deceased (ASD) voters, the initiative coming after BJP delegations met the panel and voiced concerns.

While the commission has asked all states to conduct such drives by August - ahead of the annual summary revision between September and November - administrative sources in Bengal said the panel appeared keen on a thorough clean-up specifically in the state.

Sources said between June 11 and 30, all of the state's 77,000-odd booths will be part of the drive, which will involve an intensive house-to-house verification by booth-level officers, usually employees of civic or panchayat bodies.

"The booth-level officers will hear complaints from common people for two days during the exercise. Political parties would also be invited to be a part of this. All this is for the removal of ASD voters," said a source.

According to him, these officers work under "tremendous" political pressure and some of the initial clean-up by them has to be cross-checked in "problematic" areas during the annual revision that starts in September every year. A rationalisation of booths and physical verification of polling premises is likely next month, before preparation of the draft rolls in August.

After the pre-revision ends, the summary revision will begin in September and be wrapped up by November so that the electoral rolls can be published by the commission on January 4 next year.

While some senior officials insisted the drive has been conducted nation-wide, almost every year since 2009, sources said the commission was paying "extra attention" to Bengal this time.

Some sources attributed the Bengal focus to not only the state's "infamous" history of alleged poll malpractices but also to repeated pleas to the commission by state BJP delegations led by Mukul Roy, the former Trinamul Number Two.

The Left Front is said to have pioneered such malpractices but the Opposition has repeatedly alleged that it evolved into an "art" under Roy in the Trinamul regime. Trinamul has denied the allegations.

"Roy led several delegations to Nirvachan Sadan (the poll panel office in Delhi) this year, explaining to the top brass how ghost voting and other electoral malpractices are conducted in Bengal. The special clean-up before the summary revision is not a coincidence," said a state BJP leader.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has not taken kindly to special measures for Bengal since the Assembly polls of 2016. On Thursday, referring to the commission's arrangements for Monday's Maheshtala Assembly bypoll, she said the constituency was made to look like a war zone, with more central forces than voters.

A senior Trinamul leader said the party was watching such activities closely and was not in a mood to tolerate "nonsense".

"It should have become amply clear that even the most free, fair and peaceful elections in Bengal result only in thumping victories for Trinamul."

Some sources said the drive presaged early Lok Sabha polls. Mamata had said on Thursday that the national Opposition should be prepared for the polls in "five-six months".

However, a senior commission official described such talk as unfounded "rumours". "This pre-revision makes it look like there is some movement towards early parliamentary elections but there is no basis to such rumours."

Additional reporting by Pheroze L. Vincent

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