KMC re-poll hangs in balance

Ballot box

THE BENGAL STATE ELECTION COMMISSION (SEC) is still awaiting report from the district magistrate of South 24-Parganas to decide whether there will be any re-poll for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls held on 18 April. 

“We received several demands for re-polling from the Opposition political parties and there were some direct complaints of irregularities that we had received at our control room on the day of election. We forwarded all these complaints to the DM South 24-Parganas on Sunday for scrutiny and had asked for his observation by today, but we are yet to get it,” state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya said this evening. 

Going by the West Bengal Municipalities (Conduct of Elections) Rules, 1995, re-poll can be ordered only on the basis of substantiating reports from a Municipal Returning Officer, poll observers and the district magistrate, he said.    

The Left, BJP and the Congress had submitted memorandums to the poll panel demanding re-poll in 28 out of the 144 KMC wards where voting took place on 18 April amidst numerous allegations of false voting, booth capture, intimidation and violence targeted at Opposition party workers. 

The poll panel on Monday shot a letter to the Kolkata Police Commissioner, asking for an action taken report on miscreants firing bullets at a sub-inspector of Kolkata Police during post-poll violence at Girish Park in north Kolkata on 18 April. The injured SI is undergoing treatment at a city nursing home. 

Mr Upadhaya said that the 25 April vote in 91 civic bodies would be “more tough than Kolkata” as the number of booths and the geographical spread is much larger.  

Of lessons in “peace” assessment and Independent games

Falnked by policemen, voters queue up at Ajoynagar Vidyapith in KMC ward no 109.
Flanked by policemen, voters queue up at Ajoynagar Vidyapith in KMC ward no 109.

By bappaditya paul

AJOYNAGAR VIDYAPITH off EM Bypass is one of the many nondescript government schools dotting the southern fringes of Kolkata.

On Saturday, during the KMC polls, the school became the venue for an unusual kind of lesson imparted by a senior police officer to his young subordinate!

Around 10.30 am a police team from Purba Jadavpur police station rushed into Ajoynagar Vidyapith which housed three polling booths (26-28) in KMC’s ward 109. This ward had been in media limelight since Friday evening after the assault on former CPM minister Kanti Ganguly and his son, allegedly by Trinamul Congress hooligans. 

Just about the time the police team moved in, a group of journalists on election beat reached there, albeit coincidentally. A few red plastic chairs and a table were lying broken at the entry to the lane that leads to the school.

The sub-inspector posted there had asked for a reinforcement after a gang of 40 to 50 hooligans on motorcycles raided the school and intimidated voters and agents of opposition parties. The gang had also vandalised the CPM camp office there.

By the time reinforcement arrived, the gang had fled the polling station, leaving the police with no other task but to ask voters to maintain order.

Several voters confirmed the raid, saying that the hooligans even tried to drag out the polling agent of an Independent candidate from booth 26 but was saved by the police.

Women cadres at a Trinamul Congress election camp office at Khanpur near Naktala in south Kolkata.
Women cadres at a Trinamul Congress election camp office at Khanpur near Naktala in south Kolkata.

For an official version, this correspondent approached Mr Amit Kumar Murmu, a Kolkata Police sergeant in charge of Ajoynagar Vidyapith. As the sergeant was narrating what had happened, a senior policeman gestured him to come to him urgently.

“Don’t disclose anything to mediapersons. Whenever a journalist enquires, just tell that the polling is going on peacefully,” the senior officer was overheard telling the sergeant.

This correpondent then turned to the senior officer and found out that he was the additional OC of Purba Jadavpur PS, Mr Milan Kumar Das. He was leading the reinforcement team that had reached the polling station a little while ago and withheld the nub of the instruction he had just given to his junior. 

“Everything is peaceful here; the voting is underway peacefully. I am the additional OC and you should believe my words,” Mr Das said, before leaving the spot with his team that included a Radio Flying Squad.    

This being the scene at Ajoynagar, high number of polling agents of Independent candidates was a remarkable phenomenon in several polling booths all through south Kolkata.

Most booths had one agent each of Trinamul Congress and the CPM and at least four Independent agents, who came in handy whenever there were allegations of false voting. 

“Trinamul has been bringing in fake voters since morning but every time I protest, the Trinamul agent with support from the Independent agents is shouting me down. I am helpless but I am not being allowed to leave the booth,” said Mr Joy Acharjee, a CPM agent at Sammelani Balika Vidyalaya booth in KMC ward 101 at Baghajatin. 

This is was a common scene across the polling booths in south Kolkata.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India.)

Kolkata: City of horror on polls day

THE KOLKATA MUNICIPAL CORPORATION POLLS on Saturday turned out to be a free run for hooligans denigrating the festival of democracy into a horror for citizens.

The day marked by several incidensts of lobbing crude grenades and hurling bullets at Opposition party cadres, intimidation and assult on voters and polling agents culminated in a sub – inspector of the Kolkata Police being shot at by miscreants at Singhi Bagan in Grish Park towards late in the afternoon.

In all these cases fingers are being pointed at the ruling Trinamul Congress, despite a pre-poll survey projecting 102 seats in its favour out of the 144.

At the close of polls, the turnout stood at 62.41% up from the 61% votes that was cast in the 2010 KMC elections. Election expert and Rabindra Bharati University professor Biswanath Chakraborty said today’s turnout was not normal in the present context and suspected that there had been at least 5 to 6 per cent false voting.

Here are a few snapshots of Saturday’s KMC polls.

The site on Council House Street in central Kolkata where granades were hurled targeting a Congress election camp office.
The site on Council House Street in central Kolkata where granades were hurled targeting a Congress election camp office.
Women cadres at a Trinamul Congress election camp office at Khanpur near Naktala in south Kolkata.
Women cadres at a Trinamul Congress election camp office at Khanpur near Naktala in south Kolkata.

On duty policemen at a polling station at Tiljala.

On duty policemen at a polling station at Tiljala.

A deserted Park Street during Saturday's KMC polls.
A deserted Park Street during Saturday’s KMC polls.
Children playing cricket on Madan Street in central Kolkata.
Children playing cricket on Lenin Sarani in central Kolkata.

Vote verification eludes Bengal civic polls

AS MAMATA GOVT HAS NOT AMENDED POLL RULES TO INTRODUCE VVPAT IN EVMs

ELUSIVE: File photo of a VVPAT machine.
ELUSIVE: File photo of a VVPAT machine.

By bappaditya paul 

IF YOU ARE A VOTER IN KOLKATA and thinking that you would verify if your vote has actually gone to the candidate in whose favour you pressed the EVM button during Saturday’s civic polls: better be prepared for a letdown!      

The West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) has failed to introduce the mechanism required for vote verification because the Mamata Banerjee-led state government did not carry out a necessary amendment to the West Bengal Municipalities (Conduct of Elections) Rules, 1995. 

Thus, neither the voters in Kolkata civic polls on Saturday nor the voters in the another 91 civic bodies where the polls are scheduled on 25 April will be able to verify their votes and get a reassurance.  

To enable a voter to verify his/her vote, a new machine, known as the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) needs to be connected to the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). A VVPAT is placed beside the EVM inside a voting compartment. 

On pressing any button on an EVM, a small monitor on the VVPAT displays for about 20 seconds the voter’s serial number and the name of the candidate whom he/she has voted for.

This information then automatically gets printed on a piece of paper resembling an ATM slip and gets stored in a sealed compartment inside the VVPAT.

During counting, the stored slips may be tallied against the votes recorded electronically in an EVM if there is a dispute over the number of votes fetched by different candidates. 

ECI headquarters in New Delhi

The Election Commission of India (ECI) successfully used the VVPAT in eight parliamentary constituencies, including Jadavpur in Bengal, during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and in two constituencies during the Delhi Assembly elections earlier this year.   

But to emulate VVPAT in local body polls in Bengal, it is necessary to amend the WB Municipalities (Conduct of Elections) Rules, which the state government has not done yet. 

“An amendment to the Rules is mandatory as the State Election Commission is an autonomous entity established under a state law and hence, anything new introduced by the ECI cannot be emulated automatically,” explained the state poll panel joint secretary, Mr Sabbyasachi Ghosh.

“Besides, the ECI has so far tried VVPAT in some select constituencies on a pilot basis and it has not been made universal as yet.”

There’s a technical constraints as well: that is, a majority of the 24,000-odd EVMs being used in this civic polls are old versions that do not come with a ready plug-in for VVPAT.

“Only the EVMs manufactured post-2006 have in-built option to connect an external device such as the VVPAT. The Bengal poll panel does not have enough of such EVMs,” said an official.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 18 April 2015.)

Kolkata votes today

37.53 LAKH VOTERS TO SEAL THE FATE OF 1,075 CANDIDATES IN 144 MUNICIPAL SEATS 

A voter slip distributed by CPI-M in KMC ward no 45.
A voter slip distributed by CPI-M in KMC ward no 46.

By bappaditya paul

KOLKATA WILL GO TO the civic polls on Saturday with over 37.53 lakh electors registered to exercise their franchise to seal the fate of 1,075 contestants.   

A recent opinion poll conducted by Bengali TV news channel ABP Ananda has projected a clean sweep for the Trinamul Congress, which is currently ruling the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC).

The polls will start at 7 am and is scheduled to close at 3 in the afternoon. But the voting may continue for a few more hours depending on the number of voters queuing up before the deadline ends.  

KMC has 144 municipal wards after three wards were added to it from Joka in South 24-Parganas about a year ago.

In the 2010 KMC polls, when the number of wards was 141, Trinamul had won 95, Left Front 32, Congress 10, BJP three and one seat was wrested by an Independent.

In Saturday’s elections, 1,075 candidates will slog it out for the 144 wards. They include 144 candidates from Trinamul, 143 from Congress, 142 from BJP, 105 from CPI-M, 14 from CPI, 11 from Forward Bloc, 10 each from RSP and BSP, five from Suci, three from CPI-ML, one from RJD and there are 483 Independents. 

Among the 37.53-lakh voters, the number of male voters is around 20-lakh, females 17.52-lakh and there are 20 voters categorised as third gender.    

The number of polling booths is 4,704 and they are housed in 1,516 polling premises.

Kolkata Police said that they were pressing in 32,000 security personnel, including three companies of Central troops, for Saturday’s polls.

The Central troops have been divided into 48 smaller units and are being deployed in  all the eight police divisions at the rate of six units each. 

Kolkata Police and the State Election Commission (SEC) are deploying one Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) each to monitor the polls. 

The SEC has opened a control room for public with the numbers being ~ 2287-0522 and 2287-0553.

Kolkata civic polls campaign ends amidst violence

POLL COMMISSIONER BRIEFS GOVERNOR

A man walk past an online broadcasting van of a TV channel with civic poll coverage logo printed on its exterior.
A man walks past an online broadcasting van of a TV channel with civic poll coverage logo printed on its exterior. In Kolkata.

By bappaditya paul

CAMPAIGNING FOR THE 18 APRIL Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls ended at 5 pm on Thursday amidst sporadic violence in several parts of the city and the state election commissioner apprising the Governor on the overall situation. 

Bengal poll commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya told media persons in the evening that the three companies of Central forces that were being made available for the KMC polls was not enough to “instill confidence” in the voters.

The poll panel had sought 50 companies of Central forces for Kolkata and 100 companies for the districts.

He said that in the past few days Kolkata has topped with 80 complaints as regards the number of allegations of poll violence received by the poll panel, followed by 46 from South 24-Parganas. The total number of complaints from the districts is 150.   

Earlier in the day, the principal secretary of Bengal Home department R K Gupta informed the poll commission in writing that three companies of Central troops would be deployed in Kolkata.

After the KMC elections on 18 April, two companies will be re-deployed in North 24-Parganas and one company in Hooghly for the civic elections in the districts on 25 April.

Volence illustration

The day witnessed at least three attacks on workers and candidates of Opposition political parties allegedly by Trinamul miscreants.

At KMC’s ward number 41 in Narkeldanga in north Kolkata, Congress candidate and sitting councillor Prakash Upadhaya was assaulted by some Trinamul supporters.

At Patuli in south Kolkata, CPI-M supporters and the party’s poll candidates were attacked with blunt weapons in the morning while they were returning from an election rally. Angry CPI-M workers ghearoed Patuli police station demanding the arrest of the culprits.

Again at Kasba in south Kolkata, some BJP cadres were assaulted early on Thursday while they were putting up saffron flags along the main road.

The election commissioner said that he today called on the Governor Mr Keshari Nath Tripathi to apprise him of the overall preparations for civic polls and the prevailing situation in the poll-bound civic bodies. “The Governor has instructed us to keep an watch on law and order,” he said.Bengal state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya. File photo.

Bengal state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya. File photo.

During the day, several delegations of civil society groups and Opposition political parties met the election commissioner lodging complaints over alleged Trinamul attacks on their workers.     

A delegation of Left-leaning civil society members comprising Wasim Kapoor, Chandan Sen, Kinnar Roy, Malabika Chatterjee and others, told the commissioner that they were worried over the spurt in violence in Kolkata over the past few days and urged that the poll panel should do everything in its command to ensure that citizens can vote peacefully. 

A team from the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) voiced similar demands and also registered their protest over the absence of NOTA option in the civic poll EVMs.   

Two separate delegations of the Left Front and a delegation from the BJP also met the poll commissioner over attacks on their workers, allegedly by Trinamul-backed miscreants. 

‘32,000 cops for Kolkata civic polls’

A Kolkata Police team. File photo.
A Kolkata Police team. File photo.

KOLKATA POLICE on Thursday said that around 32,000 security personnel, including three companies of Central forces, would be pressed into duty for the civic polls in Kolkata on Saturday.   

This apart, Kolkata Police and the State Election Commission (SEC) are deploying one Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drone) each for aerial monitoring of law and order situation in Kolkata on the day of polls.

While the city police have used drones for surveillance on several occasions in the past; the poll panel is using a drone for the first time.  

Based on the live video feeds from the drones, the authorities will pass on instructions to ground level security personnel and administrative officials on poll duty. 

Rajiv Mishra, the joint commissioner (headquarters) of Kolkata Police said that the deployment of police personnel has been increased as compared to the past elections in Kolkata to prevent hooliganism during polls.     

He said that in poll premises having up to three booths, a sub-inspector, an assistant sub-inspector and two armed policemen would be deployed in addition to one policeman with baton for each booths.  

Premises with more than three booths would see the deployment of a sub-inspector, an assistant sub-inspector and four armed cops, besides one policeman with baton in each booths. 

He added that there would be 74 cluster mobile police units, 218 sector mobile units, 35 Radio Flying Squad, 24 Highway Radio Flying Squad and 107 supervision officers.

There are 1,516 polling premises housing a total of 4,704 polling booths in KMC area that lie under the 69 police stations in the Kolkata Police jurisdiction.

Kolkata erupts in violence as civic poll campaign nears end

FINGERS POINTED AT TRINAMUL CONGRESS; POLL PANEL SEEKS REPORT

Volence illustration By bappaditya paul

WITH JUST 24 HOURS TO GO before campaigning ends for the 18 April Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls, several parts of Kolkata erupted in violence on Wednesday with the ruling Trinamul Congress cadres accused of attacking rival political workers.

The day’s first violence was reported around noon from KMC’s ward number one at Cossipore where supports of the Trinamul candidate clashed with the supports of a rebel candidate who is contesting the elections as an independent.

Video footage of a CCTV camera installed at a local shop showed them lobbing crude grenades  and chasing each other brandishing pistols.  Kolkata Police had to struggle a lot to contain the warring factions in the busy commercial area; a police picket has been posted at the site to stop further violence.

Only a few hours after the Cossipore clash, around 9.30 in the evening three CPI-M workers were attacked at ward number 101 and 102 at Baghajatin in south Kolkata allegedly by Trinamul-backed miscreants.

The CPI-M workers were distributing voter’s slip door-to-door when the attack took place; while two of them were released on first-aid from the Baghajatin State General Hospital, the third one was admitted to the M R Bangur Hospital with severe injuries.

Peeved over the attack, CPI-M workers put up a road blockade at Baghajatin More from 10.15 pm demanding immediate arrests of the perpetrators of the crime. The blockade was withdrawn after two hours following police persuasion.

Roopa Ganguly
Roopa Ganguly

The incidents took place close on the heels of an attack on BJP leader and actress Roopa Ganguly during a poll meeting at Alipore on Tuesday evening. While the actress was badly heckled allegedly by Trinamul cadres, her car was damaged severely.

Taking cognisance of the incident, Bengal State Election Commission today sought a report from the Kolkata Police Commissioner and the district magistrate of South 24-Parganas.

The Commission has sought to know whether Roopa Ganguly’s meeting was being held with prior permission and if so, why the police failed to ensure law and order at the venue.

“We have also sought to know, what action has the police taken since then and if any of the perpetrators had been arrested,” state election commissioner Mr Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya said on Wednesday evening.

The poll panel has shot a separate letter to the Kolkata Police Commissioner directing him to carryout an investigation against one Swapan Chakraborty alias Mota, a Trinamul Congress henchman who was allegedly reining in terror on Opposition party cadres at the ward number one of KMC.

SEC officials said that over the past few days they have received several complaints against Chakraborty from all the Opposition political parties.

IndiGo introduces Kolkata-Dimapur flight

IndiGo flight
IndiGo flight

By bappaditya paul

LOW COST AIRLINE IndiGo on Wednesday introduced its maiden daily flight between Kolkata and Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland in north-east India.

With the launch of this flight, IndiGo becomes the second airline to operate a flight on the Kolkata-Dimapur sector; until now national carrier Air India was the only one operating three flights a week to Dimapur on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The new IndiGo flight not only connects Dimapur to Kolkata but also facilitates a stop-over connectivity to the national capital Delhi. IndiGo said in a release that  Dimapur has become its 33 domestic destination. 

The flight, 6E-606, will take off from Dimapur at 1.10 pm everyday, reaching Kolkata at 2.40 pm. After a brief stop-over, it will fly out from Kolkata at 3.25 pm and land in Delhi at 5.40 pm.

The return flight, 6E-605, will depart from Delhi at 8.25 am and land in Kolkata at 10.25 a.m. It will take off from Kolkata at 11.25 am and touch down at Dimapur at 12.40 pm.

IndoGo president Aditya Ghosh with Nagaland CM T R Zeliang at Dimapur airport on Wednesday. Photo-IndiGo
IndoGo president Aditya Ghosh with Nagaland CM T R Zeliang at Dimapur airport on Wednesday. Photo-IndiGo

Nagaland Chief Minister T R Zeliang was present at the Dimapur airport on Wednesday to greet IndiGo’s maiden flight by cutting a cake along with IndiGo President  Aditya Ghosh. The inaugural flight from Dimapur took off at 1.30 pm with 116 passengers on board.

In a statement, Mr Ghosh said: “The launch of new flights to and from Dimapur is a progressive step. Adding Dimapur on our network is a testimony of our commitment towards connectivity across the country’s corners bringing more and more people closer to their dreams and new opportunities.”

IndiGo is India’s largest low cost airline with a market share of 37.1 per cent as in February 2015. With its fleet of 94 new Airbus A320 aircrafts, the airline offers 623 daily flights connecting 33 domestic and five international destinations, namely, Bangkok, Dubai, Kathmandu, Muscat and Singapore.

E-taxi service: Poila Baishak ride from Howrah rly station

Taxis line up in front of Howrah railway station.
Taxis line up in front of Howrah railway station. File photo.

PASSENGERS CAN NOW BOOK PREPAID TAXI ONLINE 60 DAY IN ADVANCE OF ARRIVAL

By bappaditya paul

GOOD NEWS FOR PASSENGERS travelling to Howrah railway station ~ one of the busiest and the largest railway station in India!

Howrah City Police in collaboration with the railways is introducing an E-taxi service for train passengers, using which people can book prepaid taxis online 60 days in advance of their arrival at Howrah station.

The service will be launched on Wednesday on Poila Baishak (Bengali New Year) by Howrah Police Commissioner Ajey Mukund  Ranade  and Howrah Divisional Railway Manager R Badri Narayan.

The initiative, a first at a railway station in India, is expected to come in handy for thousands of passengers who arrive at Howrah railway station everyday and are required to queue up for up to 45 minutes to get a cab.

As of now, passengers have the option to book a cab using radio taxi services such as Megacabs, Ola Cab etc 48-hour in advance, but are required to pay parking charges, and waiting fee when a train arrives behind schedule. Most radio taxi providers close modifications in bookings an hour before the original requisition time for a cab.

Howrah City Police logoUnder the E-taxi service of Howrah City Police, passengers will not be required to pay any such charges even if their train is delayed for hours altogether. The fare charged will be the one in force for regular taxis plying in Kolkata as prescribed by the  Bengal government’s Transport Department, plus a 10 rupees service charge.

To book an E-taxi all that a person needs to do is visit the Howrah City Police’s official website http://howrahcitypolice.in/  and click the Book Prepaid Taxi icon and enter date-time, destination, mobile number and email ID.

The moment one selects a destination, the system will automatically display the prescribed fare and the payment can be made using debit/credit card or through online banking of 57 nationalised and private banks. Once the payment is made, a code would be automatically sent to the passenger’s mobile number and e-mail ID.

“On arriving at Howrah station, the passenger will enter the code on a specially designed kiosk that we have installed near the exits of the old and new station buildings. Within seconds two paper slips will be dispensed by the kiosk mentioning the taxi number and lane where the taxi is stationed,” explained the DC (Traffic) of Howrah City Police, Sumit Kumar.

Howrah Prepaid Taxi booth.
Howrah Prepaid Taxi booth.

“Of the two slips dispensed by the kiosk, one will be driver’s copy to be handed over by the passenger on reaching destination,” he said adding, ” We have a pool of 6,000 private taxis whose status get automatically updated on our server once they pass through the Radio Frequency Identification bar gates that are installed at Howrah station’s taxi-bays.”

To begin with, the Howrah Police have installed two kiosks procured from Hyderabad-based Analogics Tech India Ltd; they plan to install four more kiosks over the next few months.

The E-taxi service will run parallel to the four manual Pre-paid taxi booking booths that are functional at Howrah station for the past few years.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 15 April 2015.)

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