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Security costs for India poll soar 50%

April 10, 2009 11:08 IST

Soaring security expenses mean this month's parliamentary election will cost India over 50 per cent more than the last such poll in 2004.

Election officials are concerned that during the month-long voting period that begins on Thursday next week India may suffer a terror strike originating in Pakistan, similar to the November 26 attack on Mumbai that killed 179. They are also wrestling with home-grown militant movements.

N. Gopalaswami, chief election commissioner, told the Financial Times that this year's five-stage election would cost an estimated Rs 20bn ($400m, euro 300m, pound 270m), up from Rs13 bn five years ago. There is concern about a possible terror strike by Pakistan-based militants and widespread insurgency by leftwing extremists.

The Indian Premier League cricket championship, which also begins next week, has been forced to relocate to South Africa, as New Delhi indicated it could not spare security forces for the competition during the election period.

The government will deploy about 2m security personnel to secure the ballot for 714m voters.

The election commissioner described some parts of India as a "war zone" where roads were mined overnight by home-grown leftwing extremists. Other states were plagued by violent separatists. Several large cities had been hit in the past year by serial bombing.

Mr Gopalaswami said voters had been forced to stay at home by militants trying to enforce poll boycotts. Some parliamentary candidates required special protection against roadside attack, including bullet-proof vehicles provided by the election commission.

"Road-opening parties are sent out to see if roads are mined," Mr Gopalaswami said. "There has to be sanitisation of the area. We (can) now dominate the area for a short time and then the elections can take place."

Forces of the Maoist Naxalite movement operate in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. But Mr Gopalaswami warned of a growing threat that had spread to West Bengal and Maharashtra. In violence-affected areas, election turnout had in the past been only about 50 per cent, compared with more than 70 per cent elsewhere.

Manmohan Singh, prime minister, has identified the threat of Naxalism as one of the biggest confronting India.

The election's rising costs have also been fuelled by pay rises for election officials and their transport. Some election officials are flown in and out of remote areas by helicopter.

The logistics behind the election of 543 parliamentarians for India's lower house of parliament, or Lok Sabha, are forbidding. Some estimates put the total number of personnel needed to run and protect 800,000 polling stations at about 10m. The election, which is entirely electronic, is conducted on 1.1m voting machines.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

James Lamont, Amy Kazmin and Alec Russell in New Delhi
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