Chhattisgarh drivers wary of ferrying security forces

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Raipur: A scene at the site of the Maoist ambush in Bastar, where the Congress party convoy was attacked in May this year. Photo PTI

The Election Commission is facing a lot of difficulties in its preparations for the upcoming assembly elections in Chhattisgarh. A recent problem that has cropped up is the dearth of conveyance for security forces and polling parties as vehicle-owners are not willing to provide transport to naxal areas while the drivers and conductors of those who do so, hastily quit their jobs.

In a complaint to DGP Ramnivas, the Chhattisgarh Transport Federation (CTF) has stated that their drivers and conductors are not willing to ferry paramilitary forces to the front since the personnel tie them up, fearing that they might escape, deserting them. The CTF also alleged that they are even made to eat at gun-point. Referring to the previous elections, CTF officials claim that the drivers who take the forces deep into the barren stretch of naxal occupied regions are unable to contact their families for weeks on end.

The unavailability of an adequate number of vehicles in Chhattisgarh has forced the transport department to seek help from the neighboring states of Jharkhand and Maharashtra. For now, the transport department has acquired 150 vehicles from local travel agents which have been parked in the police line of Raipur.

In the first phase of elections, the transport department is acquiring vehicles for sending 600 companies of paramilitary forces to Bastar and Rajnandgaon. The state needs 1800 buses and 1200 cargo vehicles for carrying polling materials and 800 luxury cars for ferrying officers.

The general secretary of CTF Haji Shafeeq Raza says that vehicles and drivers are to be hired for over a month, but the drivers are fleeing their jobs for fear of being taken hostage for that period.

However, Transport Deputy Commissioner Dr Ravi Shankar has denied that drivers are made hostages. The vehicle-owners had an issue with the rent and he says that changes have been made in the standard rate.

The DGP has assured the CTF that no such activity of taking drivers hostage will take place. “Only a few areas reported such incidents in the previous elections. But if the federation fears this, the police and paramilitary forces will be given specific directions so that the drivers and conductors do not face any problems,” he said.

All central security forces including CRPF and BSF have started reaching Chhattisgarh to ensure strict vigilance during the elections and provide security to voters and polling parties. Police superintendents will deploy them in the naxal-affected areas as per need.

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