Complimenting the West Bengal government for being extremely cooperative, Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi on Wednesday said all suggestions and instructions of the commission were being readily complied with in the poll-bound state.
"We are very satisfied and the level of compliance with regard to neutrality among the officers is good," Quraishi said at a press conference at the end of the two-day review of poll preparedness and law and order situation in West Bengal by a full bench of the commission.
The EC bench, headed by the CEC, held a series of meetings with political parties, district magistrates, superintendents of police, city police chiefs, divisional commissioners, chief secretary, home secretary and the director general of police, to review the law and order situation and election preparedness.
Quraishi said the commission, after making a review of the execution of the non-bailable warrants, had found that the execution rate was two to three times more in the state than before. "Compliance rate of the model code of conduct is good in West Bengal and recovery of arms has increased three to four times than before ... Deposits of licensed arms too is good," the CEC said.
Quraishi, who in his last visit to the state had expressed concern over the law and order situation, said mostly the officers were neutral "and I told the officers at a meeting in clear terms that neutrality is non-negotiable."
The CEC referred to complaints from some political parties about harassment from police with regard to NBW execution. "I have instructed the officers that there should be no harassment of political parties during carrying out NBWs," he added.
Asked about the Communist Party of India-Marxist's complaint against Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee in connection with violent incidents at Barasat in 1994 in which the police had registered first information reports against Banerjee, Quraishi said "we have asked for details".
He said a CPI-M delegation met the EC team on Tuesday, and took one hour to place its submissions about execution of NBWs. "Our concern is that NBWs against die-hard criminals be executed as they can create trouble," the CEC said, adding "we will miss out people having potential to create problems if NBWs are not used properly".
"In Bihar we did qualitative prevention of crime by identifying criminals," he added. The CEC said that he had called a meeting of the chief secretaries and DGPs of West Bengal and neighbouring states in Delhi on Friday to ensure inter-state coordination to stop intrusion of criminals and arms smuggling during poll period.
According to the CEC, police commissioner of Kolkata, Gautam Mohan Chakraborty was transferred as part of the policy of shifting an officer posted in the same post in same area for over three years.
"This is not a reflection of the commissioner's performance and we have nothing against him." About state finance minister Asim Dasgupta being put under EC scanner for model code violation, he said "the finance minister or any other ministers have many files to dispose of. Work of the state has to go on. We have nothing against him."
Quraishi said, "By and large, officers are doing a good job. We often receive complaints about bureaucracy following political line. But I did not see much evidence". The CEC said that he had asked the officers not to remove party flags from political party offices as alleged, but instructed removal of all cutouts and photographs or portraits of political party leaders from all state and central government offices as early as possible.
"We have received complaints that some officers are behaving rudely while executing NBWs, but we made it clear to them to maintain full courtesy in ensuring model code of conduct," he said. Quraishi said that the after due consideration, the EC rejected the demand of most political parties to allow them to launch campaign from April 8 for the first phase of polls (April 18).
"We cannot discriminate between examinees during that period of time," he added. The CEC said that he would take up with the ministry of information and broadcasting the issue of increasing the slot in the electronic media for candidates to campaign.
"I will urge the private channels too to allow them a slot." Referring to complaints received from some political parties that some officers were not neutral, he said neutrality was non-negotiable "and slightest suspicion of partisanship will invite action".
"The EC has put a ban on sale or free distribution of saris and shirts bearing party symbols and asked the officers to keep an eye on this," Quraishi said. He said EC permission was given to the Centre before announcement of a six percent hike in central dearness allowance. About missing electoral voting machines in Durgapur, he said an inquiry would be ordered.
"First level check of EVMs by political parties had shown that they were highly satisfied". To a question, the CEC said that while exit poll is banned, "opinion poll goes on".
To another question, Quraishi said that 182 general observers and 13 EC-appointed police observers (of DIG and above level) would be deployed in poll-bound state, adding "all political parties assured me of a violence-free election". The CEC hoped that West Bengal would deliver a perfect election and come out with flying colours.