May 17: Fighting a panchayat election, it seems, is an easier thing to do than minding voters on poll duty.
Ask Debashis Sarkar, a lecturer of agricultural economics at Visva-Bharati, who has filed his nomination for the Ruppur gram panchayat seat in Birbhum. He is not sure what symbol the state election commission has allotted for him, but he is sure he will not do the rigorous poll duty.
The easiest way out, according to Sarkar, was to stand as an Independent.
I dont recall my symbol, he said, smiling, possibly in relief now that he wont have to go to a distant village to monitor voters. And who knows, he may have to stay there till midnight for work to get over. I was tense about the election duty. That is why I became an Independent candidate.
Sarkar, from Surul in Birbhum, around 205km from Calcutta, had a gall bladder surgery last year, he claimed, and could have applied for exemption on medical grounds, but thought this way was easier.
He has not campaigned and does not care to win.
Nor do some 750-odd Independent candidates in Birbhum, which goes to polls tomorrow. Not surprisingly, they are all teachers.
In 2003, only 109 Independents were in the fray.
Like Sarkar, Shib Shankar Roy is the Independent candidate from Uttarnarayanpur gram panchayat. The 57-year-old chemistry teacher of Bolpur High School said: I had a mild heart attack last month and found this is the only way to get rid of election duty.
In the Sagardighi gram panchayat in Murshidabad district, of the 23 Independent candidates, 20 are schoolteachers. All 20 had been requisitioned for poll duty.
Shiben Mondal, a teacher of Jogpur Junior High School, said: As a polling officer, one has to shoulder several responsibilities. Besides, I may face some untoward incident at a polling station. So, if I am absolved of polling duty by filing nomination as an Independent, it is much easier, he said.
Mahammed Matin, the BDO of Sagardighi, conceded there was a hands crunch. But the state election commissions hands are tied as it cannot requisition the teachers who have filed nominations.
Poll personnel have to undergo a two-day training away from home. Also, they have to reach the posting area a day before the election and stay there till the election is done. Polling sometimes goes on till midnight, said poll panel secretary Jayanta Dutta Gupta
It is mandatory for government staff to do poll duty. But teachers in state-aided or Centre-aided institutions have an advantage. They can stand for election, unlike government employees who cant.