A Left parties delegation comprising of Shri Prakash Karat, General Secretary of the CPI(M), D. Raja, Secretary, CPI, Abani Roy, Secretary, RSP and Nilotpal Basu, Member of the Central Secretariat of the CPI(M) met the Election Commission and submitted a memorandum regarding issues pertaining to the assembly elections in West Bengal.
The full text of the memorandum is being released to the press.
April 3, 2006
The Chief Election Commissioner
Dear Shri Tandon,
We would like to draw your attention to certain issues pertaining to the forthcoming assembly elections in five States. Some of the issues we intend to raise have implications which go beyond the current series of assembly elections and hold good for the election process in general and are relevant to the whole the country.
The Election Commission has been making efforts to ensure that poll expenses are kept within the limits and use of money power discouraged. In the light of this, the ban on wall writings, putting up posters and banners in any public or private place in the whole state of West Bengal, is uncalled for. This has been done by extending the jurisdiction of a local law (West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1976) applicable to the city of Kolkata, to the whole state of West Bengal. However, similar approach was not taken in the case of Tamilnadu (PTI dispatch of CEC’s press conference appended).
In fact, this has led to the denial of a cheap mode of campaign for the political parties. In place of this, no other cost-effective method of propagating the election symbol, the names of the candidates and other relevant content has been put forward. You will agree that that people’s participation in the election process is the essential core of our democratic system. The political parties play a crucial role in ensuring people’s participation. Unless political parties are provided with the wherewithal to approach the people, the very essence of this democratic exercise gets undermined. We would also like to point out that the first phase of the elections in West Bengal is scheduled to be held on 17th April and because of the stricture on the use of microphones for public meetings till 13th April 5.00 p.m., the opportunities of reaching the people in large numbers is severely constrained. We hope you will consider this vital question because this issue has wider ramification for the future of the electoral process in the country.
On the question of the revision of electoral rolls, much clamour has accompanied the exercise of revising the electoral rolls for the West Bengal assembly polls, 2006. It has been rightly stated by the Commission, at different points of time, that revision of electoral rolls is a continuous affair. Therefore, we place before you for your consideration that revision of electoral rolls should be carried out every year intensively through persons now termed as “local officers” in West Bengal for a month and the revised updated rolls should be published every year. This should not be a problem, given the fact that the Commission has already taken initiative to establish the electoral authorities for each State as a separate entity. This, in our opinion, should be an extremely welcome step to make the electoral rolls flawless and contribute towards the holding of a free and fair polls, as a flawless electoral rolls is one of the major foundations for a free and fair poll.
The third major point that we would like to emphasise is the need for smooth coordination between the Election Commission as an independent constitutional body and the State government for the holding of elections. As you are aware, the Constitution empowers the elected State governments to be responsible for the law and order of a State at all times, including, at the time of elections. While there can be no question about the pre-eminence of the Election Commission in ensuring that the law and order machinery is not misused for influencing elections, a perfect coordination and liaison with State administration is of equal importance. In the wake of the impending assembly elections, it has become important to ensure such a coordination, particularly in the State of West Bengal. We have been given to understand that the Commission has decided that the entire security arrangement within the polling premises will be under the charge of the electoral authorities and the State administration will only be informed about decisions taken by the electoral authorities. Given the fact that a large number of security forces from outside the State will be exclusively responsible for maintenance of law and order within the poll premises, communication (given the language barrier) may become a major problem. Therefore, we urge you to ensure specific guidelines where the State police administration can play a coordinating role in overcoming any untoward incidents
The fourth issue arises out of the guidelines for the functioning of the observers. The Commission has opined under Section 20B sub-section (2) that “the observer nominated under sub-section (1) shall have the power to direct the Returning Officer for the constituency or for any of the constituencies for which he has been nominated, to stop the counting of the votes at any time before the declaration of the result or not to declare the result if in the opinion of the Observer, booth capturing has taken place at a large number of polling stations or at places fixed for the poll or counting of votes or any ballot papers used at a polling station or at a place fixed for the poll are unlawfully taken out of the custody of the Returning Officer or are accidentally or intentionally destroyed or lost or are damaged or tampered with to such an extent that the results of the poll at that polling station or place cannot be ascertained.” In our opinion the basis for ascertaining “booth capturing has taken at a large number of polling stations” is not clear, transparent and self-explanatory. This could often be open to subjective interpretation. In our view the physical act of booth capturing is a major incident which can be ascertained and recognized as such with the otherwise available provision and arrangements that are available with the Commission on the polling day itself. Therefore, it is necessary to either do away with this provision altogether or describe the basis under which the Observer can exercise this option with a more transparent and objective basis so that the apprehensions of subjective interpretation may be put to rest.
We would also like to bring to the attention of the Commission certain developments which are not consistent with the overall guidelines of the Commission in the run up to the West Bengal assembly elections. Attempts have been made by the All India Trinamul Congress and other opposition parties to delete thousands of genuine voters’ names from the electoral rolls on the basis of wrong information. Unfortunately, there are instances where such attempts have succeeded. We are appending herewith a representation sent to you earlier dated February 10, 2006 on behalf of CPI (M), West Bengal State Committee to this effect.
We also bring to your notice that the Observer, Shri R.N. Dash, in-charge of Burdwan district moved around in the district to oversee the law and order situation accompanied by a former MLA belonging to Indian National Congress and a present MLA belonging to All India Trinamul Congress. The said action of the Observer, can under no circumstances, be unbiased. You were informed of this development through a letter dated March 9, 2006 by the West Bengal State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It has not been stated by the Commission as yet as to what action has been initiated by the Commission against the said Observer for his blatant partisan activity (letter and video CD annexed).
Similarly the Observer in charge of Medinipur East district, Shri Deepak Prasad had ordered stoppage of all development work under Panchayati Raj Institutions. These works had been taking place under work orders issued much before the elections were announced and the Model Code of Conduct had come into operation. This is clearly violative of the directions of the honourable Commission. Flags are also being removed from Trade Union offices which is once again violative of your directions. Shri Prasad also summoned one Shri Ashis Pramanick on 5th March, 2006 at 10.30 p.m. and asked him to wipe out all graffiti or otherwise face legal proceedings. The CPI(M) West Bengal State Committee had already written to you on 9th March, 2006 (copy annexed). However, we have not been informed about the action initiated against Shri Deepak Prasad.
The AITC, INC and BJP have been making allegations about large number of voters terming them as Bangladeshis. We are firmly not for allowing voting right to those who are not legitimate Indian citizens. However, a number of instances have come to our notice where, on the basis of unverified reports, names of genuine voters have been struck off. The CPI(M) West Bengal State Committee has already written to you on 15th March, 2006 to this effect (letter enclosed). This needs to be cross checked and removal of names of genuine voters be stopped forthwith.
A serious and unacceptable development has taken place on the question of attempts by the AITC to get the names of Members of Parliament and former members being struck off on the basis of false allegations. Shri Alakesh Das, Lok Sabha Member from Nabdwip was sought to be dubbed as a Bangladeshi, in spite of the fact, that he was elected in 2003. Similarly, the name of former Lok Sabha member, from Contai, Shri Sudhir Giri was struck off. And the present Lok Sabha Member from Contai, Shri Prasanta Pradhan was served with a show-cause notice. Shri Giri and Shri Pradhan belong to Medinipur East district where Deepak Prasad was the Observer. The West Bengal State Committee of the CPI(M) has already handed over to you a memorandum dated 21st March, 2006 in this regard. These are violations which need to be immediately rectified and the steps initiated be urgently communicated to us.
In the same memorandum, attention has been drawn to the fact that the Commission has stated that names will be deleted even after the publication of the final rolls on 22nd March. We are not clear as to whether the voters whose names will be deleted will, at all, have the opportunity of being heard and if any genuine voter is disenfranchised how it will be remedied. This point also has been mentioned in the 21st March memorandum.
Finally, there is a controversial attempt by some NGOs with questionable bona fides to involve themselves in the electoral process. The CPI(M) West Bengal State Committee has already informed this to the Commission on 23rd March, 2006 and the Chief Electoral Officer on 25th March, 2006 (letters enclosed). This attempt is completely violative of the procedure of holding free and fair polls. This needs to be checked urgently.
We place all these facts before you for your urgent intervention and redressal. However, we are constrained to point that there is an avoidable delay in the response of the Commission in responding to most of these questions. The Commission was informed some time back about these matters and such delays should be avoided as the election process is on.
Prakash Karat, General Secretary, CPI( M)
D. Raja, Secretary, CPI
Abani Roy, Secretary, RSP
Nilotpal Basu , Member, Central Secretariat, CPI(M)