The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre to immediately rush two additional companies of central paramilitary forces for the Tripura municipal polls to ensure each of the 770 polling booths in the state is manned by central paramilitary forces.
Municipal polls are being held on Thursday to nearly 334 seats in the urban local bodies which include 13 municipal councils, six nagar panchayats and 51 wards of Agartala municipal corporation. The counting of votes is to be held on Sunday. The Court also allowed media coverage of the elections in the absence of CCTVs at all polling booths.
The top court directed the polling officials to make necessary arrangements to ensure the safety of ballots and unhindered counting of votes and ordered the polling officials in each booth to take the help of the central paramilitary personnel in the event of any exigency.
A bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath said, “We direct the ministry of home affairs (MHA) to provide additional two companies of central armed paramilitary forces of its discretion as expediently as possible considering that polling has begun and to secure polling booths so that polling can take place without any disruption.”
The order came while the Court was hearing a petition filed by All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) alleging violence in the state prior to the polls against their candidates and party workers. Based on the orders passed by the court earlier this week, the state government and director general of police (DGP) of Tripura filed joint status reports about steps taken to secure free and fair polls and action taken on complaints of violence as alleged by AITC.
On Thursday, even the Communist Party of India (Marxist) filed an intervention application in the proceedings pointing to the disturbing situation in the state. For AITC, senior advocate Gopal Shankarnaraynan said that since voting began on Thursday, there were videos of outsiders entering polling booths and pressing the button. He also alleged that one of their candidates was not allowed to cast vote at a ward of Agartala municipal corporation.
The state, represented by senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, informed the Court that polls are peaceful and the only hindrance to free and fair polls was the present proceeding. He informed Court that after assessing the security situation, the state DGP and home secretary requested Centre for two additional companies of central forces pursuant to which two additional companies of border security force (BSF) have been deployed in addition to the three battalions of central forces already present in the state. Additionally, the state counsel Shuvojit Roy informed that 458 personnel of Tripura State Rifles have been deployed for law and order duties.
Shankarnaraynan told the Court that a petition was pending before Tripura high court for installing CCTVs inside the polling booth. But the state told the high court that the matter is being monitored by Supreme Court. The bench clarified that the issue of CCTVs was not before it and said that the high court was free to issue orders. However, since polling ends today, the Court directed the state election commission to issue immediate orders to the polling officials at each booth to allow access to print and electronic media for coverage of elections.
On Tuesday, the court had refused to postpone the polls stating that postponing elections is a matter of last and extreme resort. The Court will hear the matter next week and has directed the DGP and Home Secretary to file a joint compliance report by the next date of hearing.