EC bans entry of politicians in violence-hit Cooch Behar for next 72 hrs

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New Delhi, Apr 10 (PTI) Invoking its Constitutional powers, the Election Commission on Saturday put in place certain restrictions, including extending the 'silence period' from 48 hours to 72 hours, for the fifth phase of polling in West Bengal after violence in Cooch Behar district.

It also barred the entry of politicians in Cooch Behar district for the next 72 hours to prevent any possible law and order flare-up.

The decision came after four people were killed in the district as central forces opened fire allegedly when they were attacked by locals who 'attempted to snatch their rifles' during the fourth phase of voting on Saturday.

'The Election Commission of India further directs that the silence period for phase 5 (i.e. for polls scheduled on April 17) shall be extended to 72 hours and no campaigning shall be permitted during 72 hours before the close of the poll in order to ensure the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections,' an EC order said.

A total of 45 seats will go to polls in the fifth phase in West Bengal.

The silence period -- when public campaigning including rallies, meetings and press conferences cannot take place -- is generally for 48 hours.

The order also said that in Cooch Behar, comprising nine assembly constituencies (AC numbers 1 to 9) where voting will be over by Saturday, no political leader from any national, state or other party should be allowed to enter the geographical boundaries of the district for the next 72 hours.

'This comes into force with immediate effect,' the poll panel said.

The commission said it is issuing the order using its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution of India.

It also cited some Supreme Court rulings to support its decision to use constitutional powers.

The order also cited a joint report of its two special observers Ajay Nayak and Vivek Dube.

The report said that recourse to open fire by the CISF personnel became 'absolutely necessary' in order to save the lives of the voters lined up at the polling booth, those of other polling personnel and their own lives as the mob had attempted snatching their weapons also.

The order also said the special observers had not received the reports of district magistrate and the superintendent of police (SP) of Cooch Behar well after 5 pm though TV channels had been quoting the SP as saying since 3 pm that the CISF men opened fire 'purely' in self defence.

The order said it has been brought to the EC's notice that the last rites of the four persons killed in firing had still not been completed and that some political leaders may visit the area 'with the ostensible purpose of condoling the bereaved families which however, has the potent to cause a law and order problem of major proportions in this place as well as the adjoining places'.

It also said since the firing happened in a confrontation with CISF, 'the chances of central forces deployed in this area becoming or being made the butt of further grave provocation by groups of people cannot also be ruled out'. PTI NAB SNE ANB ANB