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Poll panel ‘concern’ over BDO shunt
- Transfers can’t be done at the drop of a hat with elections so close, commission tells govt

Calcutta, March 21: The state election commission today expressed “concern” over the transfer of 19 block development officers (BDOs) ahead of the panchayat polls, in which they were to play a key role.

The poll panel, it was learnt from Writers’ Buildings sources, has sent a missive to chief secretary Sanjay Mitra stating its dissatisfaction over the move, which came at a time when the elections are round the corner.

“The poll panel has virtually reminded the state that such things cannot be done at the drop of a hat with the elections so close. The commission is concerned and it has questioned the move. These officials had been working on electoral preparations for nearly a year,” a government official said.

According to government sources, although the panel does not fully take over the election process before the issuance of the notification, state election commissioner Mira Pande and her team have been “monitoring unusual transfers” closely so that the ruling party does not exert “undue influence” on electioneering.

On Tuesday, 19 BDOs — four from Birbhum, four from West Midnapore, three from Cooch Behar, two from South 24-Parganas and one each from Jalpaiguri, Murshidabad, Hooghly, Malda, Howrah and Purulia — were shunted to various district headquarters, where they will have no role in electioneering.

BDOs act as returning officers for the polls at the gram panchayat and panchayat samiti levels. Sources had said the 19 BDOs were shunted after they apparently refused to sign lists of beneficiaries of government schemes forwarded by some ministers, MLAs and panchayat functionaries.

The official said the transfers were made following “instructions” from chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

“The poll panel said they (the transferred BDOs) were doing their job efficiently and it would be difficult for their replacements to pick up the work quickly,” he said.

Joint BDOs, who are much junior officials and have little experience in electioneering, will have to do poll-related work as no replacements for the BDOs have been made.

Senior government officials said so many BDOs had never been transferred at one go earlier.

“The commission seems to have taken note of inputs from the district administration. Several district magistrates have complained to their seniors that they will face trouble conducting the rural polls without the BDOs,” a Writers’ Buildings source said.

The joint BDOs will have to accept nominations, scrutinise them and conduct the polls in the 19 blocks in the absence of the BDOs, the source said.

A BDO who was transferred had said yesterday that he was “under pressure” to clear a beneficiary list submitted by a minister for the Indira Awaas Yojana. “But I did not do that without verifying the list properly,” the official had said.

A senior WBCS official had said it was “clear” that the transfers “are linked to politics”. Several officials had expressed apprehensions that the move would affect the morale of the entire cadre.