New Delhi: The Election Commission’s (EC) action on Wednesday of relieving West Bengal Home Secretary Atri Bhattacharya of his duties and asking the state’s Chief Secretary to handle the additional responsibility, may have been prompted by Bhattacharya writing a letter dated 13 May to Aariz Aftab, the state’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), complaining about the “functioning of the CAPF (Central Armed Police Forces) deployed” in the state for the conduct of elections. In the letter he advised the CEO that the actions of the Central Forces should be overseen by the state police. By writing the letter, which is in the possession of The Sunday Guardian, Bhattacharya is seen to have interfered in the state’s election process. According to the Election Commission, Bhattacharya tried to “instruct” the EC instead of following its orders. Bhattacharya’s alleged bid to “interfere” in the poll process is also being seen as a part of the state administration’s alleged attempt to rig the six phases of elections that have been held in the state so far, as well as the alleged attempts to violate the poll code of conduct. There are reports of Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders allegedly bribing voters or threatening them not to support the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Bhattacharya’s letter to CEO Aariz Aftab claimed: “I must bring to your notice certain disturbing developments regarding the functioning of CAPF deployed in West Bengal during the conduct of elections. You will be aware of the incidents of firing by CAPF during the polls on 12 May. There were five such incidents (at Gopiballavpur, Bishnupur, Moyna, Bhagawanpur, and Sabong). In addition, there were reports of CAPF personnel behaving roughly with voters in queue and lathi-charging them without apparent justification.”
Bhattacharya further claimed: “There have been earlier complaints about the CAPF deployed using excessive force in maintaining law and order, to the extent that they have sometimes appeared to intimidate the voters. Available reports indicate that during the fourth phase of polls, the CAPF opened fire in Panrui and Dubrajpur of Birbhum district, and also, without clear provocation, beat members of the public in places like Thanapara and Haringhata in Nadia district. During the fourth phase in Karimpur, Nadia, personnel of the 78th Battalion also charged at and beat voters who were standing more than 200 metres from the election booth. During the fifth phase, in Howrah Parliamentary Constituency, CAPF personnel used force upon a sitting Member of Parliament. CAPF personnel carrying arms have also entered booths, in contravention of the Model Code of Conduct; this has been brought to the notice of their senior officers with the request to brief them more thoroughly about their duties during the conduct of elections.”
After making these allegations, Bhattacharya went on to advise the CEO that the Central forces should be monitored by the local police: “I would further place to you that apart from the rules and laws, forces from outside the state find it practically difficult to discharge their duties without the leadership of a local officer of the police, who knows not only the local language and terrain, but also the practices and history of the area. In some instances, the QRTs (Quick Reaction Teams) could not reach specified locations for more than an hour after requested. This was because they did not have knowledge of the locality.”
“You will agree that the CAPF are deployed as reinforcements and extra resources in the joint effort for conducting free and fair elections. They need to have with them local officers who know the locality and the situation, and can communicate with voters whose democratic rights are to be protected. I would therefore request that the decision for not having a local officer in-charge of QRTs be re-examined,” Bhattacharya wrote in the letter.