The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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EC sword looms over poll roll defaulters

Bhopal, March 12: The Election Commission is empowered to take exemplary disciplinary action against the district collectors of Rewa, Shahdol and Khargaon districts in Madhya Pradesh and others responsible for largescale irregularities in electoral rolls.

If the Election Commission goes ahead and implements its directive to the state government to suspend these officials, the political implications would be far-reaching. It would give Uma Bharti and the BJP the much-needed ammunition to target chief minister Digvijay Singh and weaken his iron grip over the state bureaucracy.

Nirvachan Sadan derives its strength from a 1993 Supreme Court verdict (case no. (C) 606/1993 Election Commission Vs Union of India) on the commission’s jurisdiction over government servants deputed for election duties under the Representation of People’s Act, 1951.

The court had made it clear that the commission’s jurisdiction over officers/staff/police personnel deputed to perform poll duties shall extend to suspending any official for insubordination or dereliction of duty.

Sources said the fate of the three collectors who held additional charge of district election officers looked grim as they failed to check irregularities despite getting two chances to set the record straight. Moreover, the quantum of irregularities makes their offence more severe.

For example, in Khargaon district alone, 65,000 bonafide voters are reportedly missing. What is worse is the inclusion of names of 23,000 people who are not residents of the area. Similarly, in Rewa, the enumeration process left out 22,000 voters while adding 6,000 names that cannot be corroborated.

The poll panel is intrigued how such major lapses could occur. Explaining the process, a source said the enumeration process had a system of checks and balances. After publication of the first list, there is provision for a thorough crosscheck of the electoral rolls under the collector’s supervision. The system also allows time for individuals and political activists to raise objections before publication of the second draft, which has to be examined again by the collector before being sent to the state and central poll panels.

In Madhya Pradesh, the collectors were equipped with adequate staff to deal with the exercise. Moreover, the officials in question did not seek more time or extension on account of complexity in the exercise.

The possibility of private agencies entrusted with printing these lists introducing errors — as argued by Digvijay — is minimal. First, these agencies were selected by a high-level committee of officials from the state Election Commission and the government headed by the finance secretary. Second, the electoral rolls were to be examined and scrutinised by the collectors before they were approved. On its part, the Election Commission had issued several circulars, urging officials to check printing errors.

The alleged electoral malpractises have surfaced in 16 districts, covering over 41 seats. The poll panel’s order also stipulates disciplinary action against officials in Damoh, Dhindori, Jabalpur, Narsingpur and Katni.

Digvijay has sought more time before taking action against the erring officials. But the sources said the chief minister has no option but to comply with the directive.

The Digvijay administration, while admitting lapses, is unwilling to accept that it was part of a “design” or “election management”. Officials pointed out that there has been no complaint that a particular community or people with leanings to a particular party have been excluded or included.

The complaints have also come from several quarters such as the Bahujan Samaj Party, the BJP and even from the ruling Congress. The Congress has been crying foul in leader of the Opposition Babulal Gaur’s Assembly constituency, alleging that some names have been deleted from the rolls there.

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