Days after the opposition parties complained of malpractices in the first phase of polls in West Bengal, the Election Commission has decided to deploy central forces at 80 per cent of over 5,000 booths in three Lok Sabha seats, where voting will be held on April 18.
Sporadic incidents of booth capture, smashing of electronic voting machines and intimidation of voters were reported from parts of Cooch Behar and Alipurduar on April 11.
According to an EC official, the authorities had initially decided to deploy central forces at 55 per cent of the 5,390 booths in Darjeeling, Raiganj and Jalpaiguri seats, but changed its mind following complaints of irregularities during the first phase of election.
"In the first phase, the central forces covered 51 per cent of the booths in Alipurduar and Cooch Behar. Now, it has been decided that 194 companies of central forces will be on guard at 80 per cent of the polling stations in the three north Bengal constituencies," he said.
The other 20 per cent of the booths will be manned by the state armed police, aided with CCTVs, webcasting, videography and micro-observers, the official stated.
Apart from that, six companies of central forces will be deployed to guard the strong rooms, he said.
"There will also be arrangements of webcasting to help the ECI officials, both in Kolkata and New Delhi, to oversee the polling process," he explained.
The manner in which the deployment of central forces has been increased in the second phase, "there are chances that the EC will seek hundred percent paramilitary force cover" for the next five phases, the official said.
"As per EC directives, 274 companies of paramilitary forces are likely to be coming to West Bengal for the third phase of polling. The number may increase to 383 in the fourth phase, 400 in the fifth phase.
In the sixth and the seventh phases, however, the figure may come down again, with 395 companies for south Bengal seats and 388 for constituencies in Kolkata and its surrounding areas," he noted.
Incidentally, the seventh phase will have 17,058 booths, the highest among the seven phases in West Bengal.
"In the first phase, there were complaints of malpractices in several booths of Alipurduar and Cooch Behar. The incidents were nothing major, but we are making arrangements to ensure that people get to exercise their franchise without fear," he said.
In Darjeeling, around 50 per cent of the total booths have been marked 'sensitive', keeping in mind the geographical location of the constituency and the recent reports of violence in the region.
"Some places in Darjeeling are difficult to access, but we are taking all forms of precautionary measures to ensure an incident-free election. The central forces as well as the EC officials will be reaching the Hills by the end of the day," he maintained.
Another EC official said Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora has issued strict instructions, seeking proper deployment of central forces in the state.
"The central forces are conducting route marches to help the voters gain confidence. There has been clear directives that action will be taken if any nuisance comes to notice," he added.