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Tripura Municipal Polls: SC Directs MHA to Immediately Provide Additional Two Companies of CAPF

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The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to provide two additional companies of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) to secure the polling booths during the Tripura municipal polls. The opposition Trinamool Congress (TMC) and CPI(M) in the state told a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant, and Vikram Nath that since the polling started in the morning, its candidates and supporters have not been allegedly allowed to cast their votes and there is a serious breach of law and order.

The bench said, In the circumstances, we direct that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to provide additional two companies of any CAPF as expeditiously as possible having due regard to the fact that polling has already commenced and in order to secure the polling booths so that polling can take place without any disturbance or dislocation. The top court was hearing a plea of TMC and intervention application of CPI (M) seeking direction to the Tripura government and other officials for ensuring free and fair elections in the Municipal polls.

The bench also directed the DGP and Tripura Home Secretary to immediately review the security arrangements during the municipal polls and make requisition to MHA for additional CAPF, if required. The Director-General of Police and Secretary in the Department of Home Affairs of the State of Tripura shall immediately review if there is any additional requirement of further deployment, over and above the above direction and if so, communicate it to the Department of Home Affairs of the Government of India for necessary action. Any such request having due regard of the statement made by the Solicitor General shall be duly considered, the bench said.

The bench said during the hearing it has been apprised of the fact that as a result of the redeployment of two companies of the BSF Wednesday night, 128 personnel of the BSF are also stationed in addition to the force which is made available. We direct the State Election Commission, the Director-General of Police and the Secretary, Home Affairs of the State of Tripura to ensure that every polling booth is manned by a sufficient strength of CAPF personnel, bearing in mind the sensitivity of the polling station and the need for a requisite number of personnel to guard the polling booths to ensure free and fair elections, the bench directed while adding that the polling officer at each polling booth shall take the help of CAPF personnel if any exigency arises. It noted that submission of senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for the TMC party that CCTV cameras are absent at the polling booths and when a petition was listed yesterday before the High Court, an objection was raised on behalf of the State Government to the High Court entertaining the proceedings on the ground that the entire matter is in seisin (seized) of this Court.

The bench said that when the proceedings were previously heard by this Court, it had clarified during the submissions to the counsel that since in the present proceedings no issue about CCTV cameras is being urged, the High Court would be at liberty to proceed ahead. Be that as it may, in view of the emerging situation, we also order and direct that in the absence of the installation of CCTV cameras, both the electronic and the print media should have unhindered access for full reporting and coverage of the election process, the bench said. It added that the directions to effectuate this part of the order shall be issued by the Director-General of Police, State Election Commission, and the state home secretary to all the polling officers and other concerned personnel on the ground.

It said that necessary arrangements would also be made for deploying an adequate number of CAPF personnel to ensure the safety of the ballots and to facilitate an unhindered counting of votes, when counting is scheduled to take place on November 28 and posted the matter for further hearing on December 2. During the post-lunch session, a counsel appearing for the TMC party said that despite the orders passed in the morning, no additional forces have been deployed.

The bench said that it has passed the order at 12.30 PM and it takes time to mobilise the troops on the ground and moreover Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, has assured that the orders will be complied with. Mehta, who was also present in the court for other matters, said that he will immediately have a word with the Union home secretary and would ensure that the directions are complied with.

The bench sought a report of compliance concerning the directions which shall be filed by the DGP and the Home Secretary of the State jointly as directed earlier. On November 23, the top court had refused the TMC’s plea for postponing of municipal elections in Tripura and said it is an extreme recourse and last resort to do in a democracy and passed a slew of directions to the state police to ensure free and fair elections.

On November 11, the top court had directed the State to ensure that no political party including TMC, in the fray for local body polls, is prevented from campaigning in a peaceful and orderly manner. It had issued notice to the State government on the plea of the TMC party and its Rajya Sabha MP Sushmita Dev seeking security to its workers and representatives alleging wide-scale violence on the party workers during the upcoming local body polls.

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