M A I N   N E W S

EC for use of aircraft to oversee polling in Punjab
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 8
While Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee kept his date with electors of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Laloo Yadav could not make it to Ludhiana as leaders of all major political parties wrapped up their election campaigns for the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, 10 in Haryana, four in Himachal Pradesh, last two in Jammu and Kashmir and one in Chandigarh seat at 5 p.m. today.

The final phase of polling on May 10 will decide who will form the next government at the Centre.

Since the Opposition Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) combine in Punjab has expressed apprehensions about a free and fair conduct of poll, the Election Commission is reported to have suggested the use of an aircraft for overseeing the May 10 polling in sensitive parliamentary constituencies of Patiala, Faridkot,Ferozepore and Jalandhar. The Commission wants that aircraft should be made available to its observers.

In Punjab, there are 141 contestants in the fray, while in Haryana, there are 160 candidates in the field. In Chandigarh 14 candidates are in the contest.

The electioneering had generated a lot of heat as not only national leaders of various political parties but also top stars from Bollywood campaigned in the region. Today the Prime Minister addressed election rallies in support of the BJP candidates at Mandi in Himachal Pradesh and also wrapped up the SAD-BJP campaign in Punjab by addressing a rally at Ludhiana.

While the Prime Minister addressed rallies in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who skipped Punjab for her road shows, came to address election rallies in Pathankot, Phagwara and Sunam.

On May 5, a delegation of the Shiromani Akali Dal had met the Election Commission in New Delhi. The commission, besides putting a special team of 39 observers for the counting of votes on May 13, has also directed the Punjab Government that paramilitary forces sent to the state should not be kept in reserve. Rather, they should be actively deployed in sensitive constituencies.

To restore confidence of the people, the paramilitary forces conducted flag marches and also took up special security duties at election offices in Punjab.

In a latest communication, the commission has also asked for status report about the officers whom it had ordered to be transferred. "Serious view would be taken in case these officers are put back on their old positions after the elections," is the message given in the communication. In all 18 police officers were either shifted or they proceeded on leave at the instance of the Election Commission.

Unlike Punjab, there have been not many complaints against active involvement of field officers in influencing the outcome of the elections in Haryana. The same is true of Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh also.

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