Bengal assembly polls to kick-off in Maoist-hit areas

New Delhi/Kolkata, March 4 (IANS) The Election Commission on Friday announced a staggered six-phase polling to the 294-member West Bengal assembly, beginning with the state’s vulnerable Left Wing Extremism (LWE) or Maoist-hit areas.

The election commission said the eastern state will see balloting on seven dates despite a six-phase election: April 4, 11, 17, 21, 25 and 30 and May 5.

Polling with be held for 49 seats in two rounds in the first phase – voting in 18 segments will be held on April 4, and for 31 seats on April 11. This includes Purulia, West Midnapore and Bankura districts. A portion of Burdwan district will also have voting on April 11.

Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi said the first phase of polling in the state has been decided keeping in mind the “sensitive nature” of the area and the availability of security personnel as they would also be deployed in Assam which is also considered sensitive.

As many as 56 seats in will go to polls in the second round on April 17 covering northern Bengal disrricts of Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Darjeeling, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur and Malda, as also south Bengal’s Birbhum district.

Voting will be held in 62 assembly constituencies in the third phase on April 21 spread over Murshidabad, Nadia, remaining seats of Burdwan, and a portion of Kolkata district.

In the fourth phase, polling will be held in 49 segments of North 24 Parganas and Howrah districts on April 25.

A total of 53 seats will go to polls in South 24 Parganas and Hooghly districts as also the remaining parts of Kolkata in the fifth phase on April 30.

Twenty five seats in Cooch Behar and East Mindapore districts will go to the hustings on May 5 in the last phase.

Following delimitation exercise in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal, 16,000 people who became Indian citizens after of exchange of enclaves with Bangladesh, will be able to cast votes in the polls in the last phase.

Zaidi said Cooch Behar has been kept in the last phase of Assembly polls to be held on May 5.

The counting will be taken up on May 19.

In Kolkata, the electoral body’s chief Sunil Gupta said the Commission will meet all political parties in West Bengal on Saturday. He stressed the electoral body will “strictly implement” the Model Code of Conduct guidelines for the forthcoming polls.

Terming the staggered six-phase assembly election schedule as a “result of the stepmotherly” attitude towards the state, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee however expressed satisfaction that the poll panel had acceded to her party’s demand for holding the first phase in the LWE areas.

“Assam witnesses communal violence yet has 2-phase polls. But Bengal has 6-phase polls,” she said.

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