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Featured Image: Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi in Kolkata on Thursday. 

By Bappaditya Paul

Kolkata, 14 April: TAKING note of the irregularities and violence during the first two days of Assembly elections in Bengal, Election Commission (EC) has decided to deploy a whopping 800-odd companies of Central forces for the next day of poll on 17 April.

This effectively means 68,000 Central force personnel will be out there on the streets for the 56 Assembly segments that are to go to polls on 17 April. The 56 Assembly seats are spread over the districts of Birbhum, Malda, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, and Darjeeling

This will be the highest ever deployment of Central troops during an election in Bengal; till now the highest deployment of Central forces in the state has been 700-companies.

Significantly, deviating from the previous practise, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi has himself disclosed the number for forces that are being pressed in for the election on 17 April. The CEC and the two Election Commissioners AK Joti and O P Rawat were in Kolkata on Thursday to review the on-going poll process in the state.

“Close to 400 companies of Central force is already there in Bengal, another 400 companies have arrived from Assam as the election there is over. Thus, close to 800 companies of Central troops will now be pressed into service for the next day of poll,” Zaidi told reporters.

Apart from manning the polling booths, the Central force would also patrol the poll-bound areas from Thursday itself to instill confidence in the voters, he said.

In view of the complaints of lethargic role played by the Central troops in the past two days of polls, the CEC said that “the Central forces have been asked to be very proactive” through the next five phases of elections in the state.

The Commission has indicated that it was not happy with the prevailing law and order situation in Bengal.

“Law and order at the ground level needs to be maintained with strong set of measures. All officers must work fearlessly and with the singular focus of being impartial, objective, and extremely sensitive to violation of any kind by anyone howsoever high and mighty that person might be,” Zaidi said.

He cautioned all the officials involved with the election process saying that “the Commission will not overlook any lapse in discharging poll related duties on the part of anyone and will not hesitate to take most unpleasant action in this context.”

The EC full bench, which today held a separate meeting with the external observers sent to Bengal to oversee the polls, has directed them to remain accessible to people throughout the poll process. Any deviation of this would be proved by the Commission, the observers have been told.

When asked that despite Assam being a militancy-hit state if the EC could deliver a free and fair polls there, why was it failing to ensure the same here, Zaidi said that West Bengal has its own set of challenges.

“You cannot compare one state with another state. West Bengal has its own challenges not (only) now, (but) before also. Hence, the Commission is dealing and addressing them in manner that is best in the judgment of the EC,” he said. “We will meet these challenges.”