Special Central Police Observer for Bengal speaks to this newspaper.
The Sunday Guardian spoke to former IPS officer of 1981 Andhra Pradesh batch, Vivek Dubey, who last month was appointed as the Special Central Police Observer for West Bengal. This interaction happened on the evening of 11 April, after the first phase of elections had ended in West Bengal. Dubey, who is known as an upright and honest officer, retired as Special DG, CRPF and has worked in various capacities in Andhra Pradesh and also in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Excerpts:
Q: There still seems to be a sense of fear among the common electorate in Bengal. Complaints are coming in about the absence of Central paramilitary forces from the ground. What is the Election Commission doing to ensure that the people of Bengal vote without fear?
A: West Bengal on Thursday registered the highest voter turnout in the country; it stood at 81% and you are still saying that the electorate in Bengal are scared to go out and vote. If there was fear, how did so many people come out and cast their vote? Does this voter turnout not reflect that the people of Bengal are absolutely free and brave enough to vote? These are false allegations being made and such kind of rumours should be stopped by all parties.
Q: But what is being done by the Election Commission for area domination and instilling confidence among the voters in Bengal?
A: For Thursday’s poll, we had 83 companies of paramilitary forces present in Bengal and since it was just two constituencies, the companies deployed were few, but 134 companies are coming to Bengal in the next few days to ensure free and fair election in the next phase which is on 18 April. We are on our job and are doing our best. We are regularly conducting flag marches and have increased patrolling in sensitive areas. We are also working on confidence building measures and area domination. We are trying and taking all measures, rest assured.
Q: We have seen reports of violence coming in from Bengal on 11 April (first phase) and even an incident of a huge mob entering a polling booth in Dinhata- Cooch Behar and breaking a voting machine (EVM). How do you look at this?
A: Yes, in Cooch Behar, some incidents have taken place, but Alipurduar was peaceful. Basically, three incidents were reported from Cooch Behar and one of them is what you are referring to. In this particular incident, two groups clashed with each other and in anger, one of them entered the polling booth and broke an EVM. The polling was stopped for half-an-hour, but after that it resumed peacefully.
In the other two incidents, one was about an EVM malfunction where the presiding officer forgot to delete the data from mock poll registered in the EVM, re-polling would be held in that booth.
In the third one, criminal cases have been registered against a Forward Bloc candidate who entered the polling booth with his party flag and, in protest, a mob attacked his vehicle at the polling booth.
Q: The BJP candidate from Cooch Behar, Nisith Paramanik, is asking for re-polling in all the booths where there was no Central force present and voting was held in the presence of the state police. How is the Election Commission looking at this demand?
A: This cannot happen and this never happens that all the polling booths in a particular constituency will have the presence of static posting of Central forces. The Commission identifies sensitive booths and based on which static Central forces are put in duty. In Cooch Behar, 1,253 booths were identified as sensitive and adequately Central forces were deployed in these booths.
Q: Presiding officers from across Bengal have raised this demand of deploying Central forces in all the booths. Do you think the Election Commission should look into this concern?
A: As I told you earlier, this is not possible and this never happens anywhere in India. We have static posting of Central forces only in sensitive booths.
In rest of the cases, what happens is that mobile patrolling teams of Central forces are continuously on duty and they touch each and every booth from time to time to ensure that the poll is being conducted freely and fairly.
This mobile patrolling team gives coverage and protection to all the booths. Apart from this, a Quick Reaction Team is also put in place to address any issue swiftly.