Election Commission of India. Nov 1, 2019. (File Photo: Amlan Paliwal/IANS). Image Source: IANS News

Kolkata, April 10 : The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Saturday gave a clean chit to the CISF for opening fire in Sitalkurchi Assembly constituency in Cooch Behar district during the fourth phase of Assembly elections in West Bengal that left four persons dead, saying that opening fire "became necessary to save the lives of the voters" and it was made in "self-defence".

Four persons were killed after the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel opened fire near Booth No. 126 at Amtali in Jor Patki village in Sitalkurchi at around 11.5 a.m. on Saturday.

Citing a joint report received from special observers Ajay Nayak and Vivek Dube at 5.12 p.m., the poll panel said: "They inter-alia stated that recourse to open fire by the CISF personnel became absolutely necessary in order to save the lives of the voters lined up at the polling booth, those of other polling personnel and their own lives as the mob had attempted to snatch their weapons also." The Commission also mentioned the statement given by Cooch Behar SP Debashish Dhar that was telecast on news channels, wherein it was stated that "CISF personnel opened fire purely in self-defence".

Earlier in the day, based on an interim report submitted to it by poll observer Sharad Laxman Ahire and police observer Madireddy Pratap, the Commission had adjourned polling at Booth No. 126 in the Sitalkurchi Assembly constituency.

The Commission further directed that "in Cooch Behar district where voting shall be over by today, no political leader from any national, state or other party should be allowed to enter the geographical boundaries of the district for the next 72 hours with immediate effect".

The state's Chief Secretary, Director General of Police as also the District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police of Cooch Behar have been asked to take all the steps necessary, including visiting the violence-hit area, deputing senior officers, or seeking reinforcement of Central or state forces, to ensure strict compliance of the directions of the Commission in letter and in spirit, the poll panel said.

Special obervers Nayak and Dube have been directed to keep the Commission informed on "real-time basis" about the developments in Cooch Behar for the next 72 hours.

The EC further directed that the "silence period for Phase 5 of polling (scheduled on April 17) shall be extended to 72 hours and no campaigning shall be permitted during the 72 hours before the close of the poll in order to ensure the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections".

"The respective District Election Officer (DEO) and Superintendent of Police or Commissioner of Police shall be personally responsible for its compliance," it said.

A total of five persons were killed in two separate incidents in Cooch Behar district on Saturday. Four persons were killed when central forces opened fire on an unruly mob in Sitalkuchi Assembly constituency in Mathabhanga block, while in another incident in the same constituency, a first-time voter was killed.

Reacting to the incident, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee asked Union Home Minister Amit Shah to explain why lives were lost in central forces' firing during the fourth phase of polling.

"After killing so many people, they (Election Commission) are saying the firing was in self-defence. They should feel ashamed. This is a lie," she said.

The Trinamool also accused the BJP for the violent incident.

"Since the morning, BJP miscreants were blocking people's right to vote while the CISF was influencing the voters to vote in favour of the BJP. When Trinamool workers went to enquire why people were not being allowed to vote, BJP miscreants launched an attack creating an atmosphere of chaos, following which CISF opened fire leading to five Trinamool workers losing their lives," the Trinamool said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the BJP candidate from Sitalkuchi, Baren Chandra Barman, claimed that one of the deceased persons was the party's polling agent at the booth, accusing Trinamool activists of orchestrating the violent incident.

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