Saturday, March 14, 2009

EC tells MHA to arrange more forces

14 Mar 2009, 0335 hrs IST, Bharti Jain, ET Bureau




NEW DELHI: In what could virtually shut the doors on the states looking at help from central para-military forces to host Indian Premier League’s
Season 2, the Election Commission has asked the Union home ministry to arrange additional forces, over and above the 730-750 companies agreed to earlier, for poll security.

The EC had summoned Union home secretary Madhukar Gupta on March 9 to convey its inability to conduct the polls with the extent of forces spared by the MHA and sought an extra 200-250 companies for the five-phased election. With the home ministry reiterating time and again that elections, and not IPL, were a priority when it came to force deployment, Mr Gupta agreed to undertake a fresh assessment of the force availability and come back to Nirvachan Sadan on the extent to which the EC’s additional requirements could be met.

This may more or less rule out the availability of central forces for IPL, besides also making additional demands on the state police personnel for poll duties. The MHA, obviously, will not risk EC’s ire by providing forces for IPL at the cost of poll security. The only option before the IPL may be a major departure from its original schedule, including possibilities like an altered duration of the tournament or shifting of match venues.

The EC had decided to approach the MHA for extra forces after it found that the force availability, especially for the initial two phases on April 16 and April 23, was barely meeting the requirements. Added to this was the assessment that the availability of state police pledged to the Commission would also fall short. A panicky EC, not wanting to take any chances, shared its fears with the MHA and insisted additional forces be arranged for a free and fair election.

It cited the vast gap between the force requirements of states and the actual strength spared by the MHA. But even as it sought 200-250 companies to bridge this gap, it offered to disengage some of these forces from poll duties once the first two phases — covering Naxal-hit states like Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, besides Uttar Pradesh, J&K, north-eastern states, Kerala and Karnataka — were completed.

The EC had initially sought 877 companies of security forces from the Centre for elections to the Lok Sabha and three state assemblies. However, the MHA, citing the limited numbers available in view of their preoccupation in other conflict areas, agreed to spare 730-750 companies. Along with the state police, the total deployment worked out to nearly 21 lakh personnel.

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