| (Top) Vajpayee with Sathya Sai Baba at his ashram in Puttaparthi on Wednesday, while Advani seeks blessings from Sadyojat Shankarashram Swamiji of Shri Chitrapur in New Delhi. (PTI)
New Delhi, Feb. 11: Setting in motion the poll exercise, the Election Commission today directed all states and Union territories to transfer officials who have completed four years in a district in the interest of free and fair elections.
In an order issued today, the commission has also asked state governments to ensure that no officer continues in office in his or her home district. This is the procedure the commission has been following for years.
The commission has further directed that no officer should be deployed for poll duty against whom it has taken disciplinary action. During the tenure of former chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh, the commission had initiated action against the district officials of Bastar and Jaspur in Chhattisgarh.
It clarified that these instructions would not only cover officers appointed for specific election duties like district election officers, returning officers and assistant returning officers, but other district-level officers like additional district magistrates, deputy collectors, subdivisional magistrates and tehsildars too.
In the police department, the guidelines will apply to inspector-generals, deputy inspector-generals, senior superintendents, superintendents and sub-divisional heads.
The commission has directed states to conduct a detailed review so that officers posted in their home districts could be moved out immediately. It, however, added that these instructions did not apply to officers posted at the state headquarters.
The poll panel has asked the state governments to consult chief electoral officers while carrying out the transfers. The commission feels large-scale dislocation of officers will not be necessary if the state governments carry out the order now.
The Congress today took its complaints against the NDA government to the commission, urging it to rein in the Centre’s ongoing campaign blitz on television and in print.
The commission has scheduled a meeting of all recognised political parties on February 20 to find out their views. Much of the discussion is likely to be on honouring the spirit of the model code of conduct.
The commission has, however, said its hands are tied till it announces the poll schedule and is in a position to officially invoke the model code of conduct. “For the time being, we can only appeal to the political parties to observe the spirit of the code of conduct,” a commission member said.
A five-member Congress delegation met the commission this evening. The main Opposition party drew the commission’s attention to the government’s continuing advertisements on television.
“It is not just the India Shining campaign but all other ministries and departments that are putting out advertisements centred around Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” said Congress Rajya Sabha MP R.K. Anand.
He underlined that the government was using Doordarshan to project leaders like Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and M. Venkaiah Naidu.
“Today, Doordarshan telecast a function on Deendayal Upadhyaya where it showed the Prime Minister, the BJP president and the deputy Prime Minister,” Anand added.
“Every news channel shows the Prime Minister in his National Highway campaign,” said the Congress delegation.
“The government should not spend public money to advertise its achievements,” Congress leader Oscar Fernandes said.
The Prime Minister has defended the India Shining campaign, saying that till the model code of conduct comes into effect, the government is free to advertise its achievements.
The model code of conduct has been a contentious issue since 1997 when the commission and the Centre went to court to seek a resolution to the row over when the code should come into force.
“It was finally decided by mutual agreement that the code of conduct would come into effect the day elections are announced and not more than three weeks before the polls,” the commission member said.
“We have left it to the wisdom of the commission to take action,” said Fernandes.
“If they are going to show senior BJP leaders on television, they also should give some time to Opposition leaders,” said Anand.