Vote count postponed indefinitely in three Bengal civic bodies

Kolkata: Amid mounting protests over allegations of violence and rampant malpractices during the local body polls, the West Bengal State Election Commission on Sunday decided to postpone the vote count indefinitely in three civic bodies.

"We have decided to put on hold the vote count indefinitely as we have received some allegations. We have also watched some incidents in our web cameras. We have also got some information through SMS from the presiding officers. So we have taken the decision so that we can look into these thoroughly," state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay told media persons here.

Allegations of irregularities and violence were received from Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation, Asansol Municipal Corporation and wards of the erstwhile Bally Municipality now merged with the Howrah Municipal Corporation, where polls were held on Saturday.

Seventeen journalists, photojournalists and camerapersons were roughed up mercilessly at Bidhananagar, while a woman reporter of a TV channel was threatened with rape by hoodlums allegedly backed by the ruling Trinamool Congress.

The counting was earlier scheduled for Wednesday.

Upadhyay, however, refused to give a categoric reply when asked if the panel had any plans to countermand polling and order repolls in the civic polls in view of the irregularities, which were captured by the media through Saturday.

"To say at this stage whether poling will be countermanded or not is a conjecture. We can't reply on the basis of conjecture. Whether the vote will be countermanded will depend on the available evidence.

"We are postponing the counting to look into the allegations. So there is no question of ordering repolling now. We will take a decision based on our findings," he said.

Upadhyay said the commission has sought unedited footage from some TV channels and would ask for video footage made by the administration from the district magistrates.

"We need time to go through the reports from the presiding officers and observers.

"The entire conduct of the polls comes under the jurisdiction of the commission. Wherever we see any irregularity, which has vitiated the polls process, we will surely take definite steps," he said.

Asked to specifically mention the nature of irregularities the panel officials have seen on web cameras installed at the booths, he said: "We have seen incidents like an outsider giving direction at a polling station."

The opposition Left Front and the BJP had staged sit-ins outside the commission's office till late night on Saturday demanding action about the irregularities.

Almost all leading dailies on Sunday slammed the administration and the Trinamool Congress for the violence and the electoral malpractices.

Governor K.N. Tripathi called for action.

"Irrespective of whether it goes against anyone or in favour of anyone, the state election commission should take into consideration taking such action which is permissible under the law," Tripathi told media persons.

Condemning the attack on the journalists as well as the largescale violence, the Congress during the day staged a demonstration and put up a road blockade demanding the removal of Upadhyay.

In Raiganj of North Dinajpur district, members of the local press club set aside their pens and cameras on an arterial road to condemn the attacks on their colleagues.

Meanwhile, members of Aakranto Aamra -- a forum of victims of human rights violations and administrative excesses -- met the journalists undergoing treatment at a city hospital.

Seething in anger over the assault on the media, a section of journalists were also mulling taking out a protest rally on Monday.

Noted Bengali poet Sankha Ghosh described the violence as "shameless barbarism".

"It is a shameless barbarism, which has crossed all limits," Ghosh said in a statement.

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