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EC bolsters ‘biased’ state poll office
IAS officer deployed

Calcutta, April 2: The Election Commission has posted an IAS officer in the Bengal chief electoral officer’s office amid allegations of “inaction” and “bias” by the Opposition.

This is the first time in recent memory that the EC has deployed a special officer to “bolster” the Bengal chief electoral officer’s office in the run-up to a poll, sources said.

Rajesh Pandey, 43, a 1995-batch IAS officer who is the Bengal sports secretary, has been posted as additional chief electoral officer. Nirvachan Sadan informed Bengal chief electoral officer Sunil Kumar Gupta about the move last night.

“The state’s Opposition has been complaining against the Bengal chief electoral officer’s office. They have demanded Gupta’s removal,” a Nirvachan Sadan source said this evening.

“So we decided to bring in Pandey to bolster the office. He is expected to coordinate with deputy election commissioner Vinod Zutshi (in charge of Bengal) and others handling the state’s elections,” he added.

The source said the commission’s full bench could look into the allegations against the Bengal poll office during its two-day visit to Calcutta this weekend.

Besides holding administrative meetings with officials on Saturday and Sunday, the full bench is scheduled to meet all major political parties on Sunday morning to take note of their concerns.

Numerous complaints have been submitted to the Bengal chief election officer’s office since the model code of conduct came into effect on March 5, but all of them were being forwarded to the EC headquarters in Delhi.

The situation began to improve after March 25, when Zutshi visited Calcutta and listened to the Opposition’s grievances.

Late last month, the EC wrote to the Bengal chief electoral officer expressing “dismay” at how his office had been forwarding all complaints instead of acting on them independently. Since then, the state office has been acting on some complaints. (See chart).

The CPM hailed the move to appoint Pandey.

“Even yesterday, we requested chief election commissioner V.S. Sampath to deploy an official in the Bengal chief electoral officer’s office. He had said he would appoint a special officer to improve the situation,” said CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb.

Asked why his office had been slow on acting on complaints, Gupta said today: “We are following procedures and doing all that is necessary. We have to stick to the commission’s rulebook.”

On the allegation that a block development officer had been abused and assaulted by a Trinamul Congress MLA, Gupta said he was awaiting a report by the special investigation team set up by the poll panel.

Two persons were detained today in connection with the heckling of a poll official by suspected Trinamul supporters in Howrah yesterday. Soumen Acharya had been heckled when he tried to remove Trinamul campaign material from a civic body-maintained lamppost.

District magistrate Shubhanjan Das has sent a detailed report on the alleged incident to Gupta’s office.

Heat on leaders

The election commission today “formally expressed displeasure” and reprimanded Birbhum Trinamul president Anubrata Mondal, BJP’s Barasat candidate P.C. Sorcar, CPM leader Anisur Rahaman and women and child development minister Sabitri Mitra for violating the model code.

Sorcar, against whom an FIR had been filed for allegedly making unsavoury remarks against the chief minister, obtained anticipatory bail today.

Modi complaint

Trinamul has lodged a complaint with chief election commissioner Sampath against Narendra Modi for his alleged use of a government-owned Pawan Hans helicopter to visit Karnataka on March 30. The model code of conduct bars the use of government-owned or state-rented choppers for campaigning.

The complaint also names Sonia Gandhi for allegedly using such a chopper.