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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Centre scales down West Bengal request for troops

KOLKATA

Polling officials in West Bengal are revising the list of "hypersensitive and sensitive" polling stations for the coming Lok Sabha elections following information from New Delhi that only 150 of the 350 companies of paramilitary forces sought by the State will be available. In 1999, the State had been given 175 companies.

The State authorities had identified 1,200 booths as "hypersensitive" — largely confined to four districts that have, in the recent past, been affected by militant activities involving naxalite groups such as the People's War, the Maoist Communist Centre and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation.

A major chunk of the Central forces was to have been deployed in these districts.

While the naxalites have been active in parts of west Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura districts, where they have already started calling for a poll boycott, there are also fears that KLO militants might attempt to derail the electoral process in parts of Jalpaiguri in north Bengal.

Reports of naxalites from Jharkhand and Orissa crossing into the south-western districts of West Bengal have only compounded the problem for the administration.

The authorities have drawn up a list of another 9,000 booths categorised as "sensitive." At least two armed policemen will be deployed in each of these booths. However, according to sources, this list too might have to be revised.

Meanwhile, posters calling for a poll boycott signed by the PW have appeared in certain pockets of Jadavpur area in Kolkata — evidence that the outfit is trying to extend its sphere of influence. According to the local police, there were also reports of PW activists sneaking into the Sunderbans area of North 24 Paraganas district, distributing pamphlets and exhorting the locals to boycott the elections.

Residents of the odd village in rural West Bengal have also given, in the past, similar boycott calls over more localised and apolitical matters related to non-development. Once such call, given recently by villagers in the Nandakumar block within the Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency in East Midnapore district, was to protest the failure of the State Electricity Board to provide power.

Marcus Dam

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