Heavy troop deployment on border weighs on poll security
EC to get about 10% less security forces; so poll period stretched by 3 days, phases increased for assembly elections.
NEW DELHI: The Election Commission (EC) has to conduct the Lok Sabha polls next month with about 10% lesser security forces than 2014 owing to heavy troop deployment at the border.
In contrast, the number of polling stations will be up 10% this general election due to spike in number of registered voters. This, in turn, would mean requirement for more security.
ET has learnt that EC held detailed closed-door deliberations with the government on this issue before agreeing to a number which would be sufficient to conduct polls without compromising national security.
“Overall availability of forces are affected by other commitments of security forces in border states,” EC officials confirmed to ET.
The security personnel deployed on election duty are drawn from seven central forces.
These include Assam Rifles, Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Central Industrial Security force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Sashastra Seema Bal and National Security Guard.
This is why EC had to stretch the election period slightly longer than 2014 — even though number of phases were reduced from nine to seven — so that available troops could get more time to move from one election zone to another.
But when it came to dealing with simultaneous assembly polls in some states, phases were increased so that minimal extra force is needed.
Informed sources told ET that this was a highly complex exercise, where it also had to be borne in mind that, unlike 2014, troops cannot not be catapulted far away from where they are garrisoned.
Odisha, for instance, will vote in four phases instead of the usual two-phase schedule — a point also raised by the Biju Janata Dal.
As it now turns out, the EC was able to get only half the number of troops it projected for conducting a Lok Sabha poll in Odisha, sources told ET.
This was complicated by a significant increase in sensitive or ‘critical’ polling stations in the state — up from 4,327 in 2014 to 6,390 in 2019. Eventually, it was decided to hold a poll over four phases.
The total number of polling stations in 2019 polls will be over 10.3 lakh compared with 9.28 lakh in 2014, hence the need for more security.
Bihar has seen a 17.8% increase in polling stations in 2019 as compared to 2014. Uttar Pradesh will have at least 16% more polling stations than in the last Lok Sabha election.
In fact, EC has not been able to schedule assembly election simultaneously in J&K with Lok Sabha polls due to non-availability of adequate forces.
Sources told ET that the home ministry and the state administration in J&K both put it down in writing that they would not be able to provide the quantum of security personnel required to conduct assembly polls alongside Lok Sabha polls.
Keeping in mind the availability issue around security personnel, a live border situation and the need to rest the forces as well, the EC and home ministry have worked out a deployment schedule that minimises long distance travel for the personnel.
The improvement in the situation in Assam after the Centre allowed the Citizenship Bill to lapse in the Budget session, sources said, did come as a breather in planning out the deployment.
Special effort has been made to schedule a poll calendar that allows troops to move from an adjoining state to another, instead of having them travel long distances and from opposite directions as has happened in the past.
The EC announced a sevenphase Lok Sabha poll schedule starting April 11 and ending May 19. The results will be announced on May 23.
source: Economic Times