April 4: Drop a mail, allow a mike.
Lok Sabha poll returning officers — district magistrates, additional district magistrates and sub-divisional officers — are allowing political parties, especially the ruling Trinamul Congress, to use microphones at rallies held in the open in violation of a high court ban during exams.
Sources said some district authorities were giving permission for lack of options at a time the Bengal chief electoral officer’s (CEO) office’s was not replying to emails seeking advice on what to do if mikes were used. The authorities in a few other districts were allowing sound-enhancing devices, taking advantage of unanswered mails, the sources said.
The district authorities are supposed to monitor open-air rallies to ensure that microphones are not used during board exams, which end on April 25.
A senior state government official said the returning officers had the power to disallow mikes at rallies and they did not need to seek a clarification from the CEO’s office. “But it seems everyone is taking a cue from the CEO’s office and playing it safe,” the official said.
Many wondered how the Burdwan administration allowed the use of mikes at three rallies addressed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee in Asansol today. Asansol has around 40 ISC and CBSE schools.
“There was very little we could have done. We cannot antagonise the ruling party without the support of the CEO’s office,” a source in the Burdwan administration said.
According to him, the district administration had sent an email to the CEO’s office, seeking a clarification on what to do about today’s meetings. “But there was no response from the office of Sunil Kumar Gupta, the CEO,” the source said.
Another government official said the returning officers were “playing it safe” in the case of Trinamul rallies, realising that the CEO’s office was “unlikely to take a call on contentious issues”.
Some returning officers The Telegraph spoke to said they were allowing mikes to be used at rallies after sending a query to the CEO’s office.
“We know fully well that we won’t get a reply. In case there is a problem, we can always say we had sought a clarification from the office,” a senior district official said.
Gupta could not be contacted despite repeated attempts. Barun Roy, the officer on special duty at the CEO’s office, said: “I am not looking into this issue.”
The principal of a CBSE school in Asansol said there was a “feeling in the administration that the exam season ends the moment the state higher secondary examinations get over”.
A state government official said: “Many political leaders are not even aware of the high court ban. A few others don’t know that mikes can’t be used during ICSE, ISC and CBSE exams. The authorities in the districts are supposed to create awareness among political parties.”