EC to Rely on Satellite Phones to Foil Maoists in Bengal
In the wake of the recent deadly ambush by the Maoist ultras in Chhattisgarh, the Election Commission (EC) is planning to use state-of-the art satellite phones as well as mobile telephony in West Bengal’s Left-wing extremism-hit (LWE) districts to stay in touch with the poll officials as well as security forces. And the move by the poll panel was also prompted by the intelligence tip-off on likely bid by the extremists to disrupt the polling process. However, the main hurdle faced by the EC in implementing the plan was the region’s poor mobile connectivity. Hence, a meeting of the mobile service providers was convened and they were asked to do the needful to provide seamless coverage in the shadow zones.
“We held meetings with all the mobile service providers and asked them to ensure smooth communication and mobile telephone coverage in all parts of the state. They will identify the shadow zones and we have asked them to take adequate steps,” said Amitjyoti Bhattacharji, Assistant Chief Electoral Officer. “We have also asked senior district officials to assess the situation both in terms of law and order and also mobile connectivity. Information from polling stations is communicated through text messages and as such mobile connectivity is very important,” he added. Besides, the EC is planning to obtain permission from the Department of Telecom (DoT) for providing the satellite telephones, which are otherwise banned in the country, to its staff as well as the senior security officials during polling. Bhattacharya said the issue of using satellite telephones was being centrally dealt with by the commission.
According to a senior state intelligence official, “Other than Junglemahal, which comprises Jhargram police district and Bankura and Purulia districts, where the Maoists have a presence because of the region’s proximity to Odisha and Jharkhand, there are two more districts, which have borders with Jharkhand”.
“After the recent attack in Chhattisgarh, we have received reports about Maoists regrouping in Junglemahal. They are angry with the villagers there since they turned out in large numbers during the Panchayat polls last year and plan to unleash a reign of terror by attacking candidates during campaign,” he said. The official pointed out that even though Birbhum’s status as a Naxalite hotbed in the 1970s had considerably waned in recent times.