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Clock ticks on ‘biased’ officials

- Central forces in Bengal to be doubled
VS Sampath speaks in Calcutta on Sunday

Calcutta, April 6: Chief election commissioner V.S. Sampath today said the Election Commission was mulling action against some Bengal officials who have been under its scanner for allegations of bias towards the ruling establishment and for inaction on complaints.

“We have our own inputs. We are considering them. You will come to know very soon. You need not to be in suspense for too long,” Sampath said, asked if the commission would act against such complaints.

Sampath, who held a string of meetings through the day at a New Town hotel, added that the commission would come down “very heavily” on the officials under the scanner for partisan behaviour and inaction.

The chief election commissioner also said that Bengal would get “slightly more than twice” the number of companies of central forces it got in 2009. This means the state was likely to get around 440 companies this time.

He added every booth in the state would get at least two armed police personnel.

The full bench — comprising Sampath, election commissioners Nasim Zaidi and H.S. Brahma, director-general P.K. Dash and deputy election commissioner Vinod Zutshi — returned to Delhi tonight after holding meetings with all returning officers and superintendents of police.

The full bench also met representatives of political parties, and finally the senior-most officers — the chief secretary, home secretary, director-general of police and the commissioner of Calcutta Police.

According to sources, action by the commission primarily means transferring officials out of poll duty. In some cases, the commission acts tougher, which may result in discontinuation of service, the sources added.

Over the past month, the commission has transferred 44 officers in Uttar Pradesh, 94 in Rajasthan, six in Bihar and three in Punjab. Most of these transfers were on account of alleged bias towards ruling parties.

“It seems there will be some action. It will send a stern message to others,” a senior official in Bengal said.

The “message” has increased fear among Bengal officials under the chief electoral officer’s office, which is under pressure since the commission’s March 25 missive to act promptly and not forward complaints to Delhi.

“Many of us are caught between the frying pan and the fire. Disobeying the commission could seriously jeopardise our service. Disregarding the ruling establishment would certainly not help matters for us after the poll process is over,” said a district official who attended one of the meetings this afternoon.

According to several officials, the bench “reprimanded” police superintendents Bharati Ghosh (West Midnapore), S.M.H Meerza (Burdwan), S.R. Mishra (Nadia), Anoop Jaiswal (Cooch Behar), B.L. Meena (Howrah) and Tanmoy Roychowdhury (North 24-Parganas).

Besides, chief electoral officer Sunil Kumar Gupta, the district magistrates of North 24-Parganas and Birbhum were among IAS officers who were warned, the sources said.

Sources in the poll panel said “a few” IPS officers could be transferred in a day or two.

“Action against a few IPS officers are very likely. The commission is undecided on the IAS officers, at least now,” a source said late this evening.

Asked if Gupta, too, was likely to face action, Sampath said: “We are closely monitoring this from Delhi. So far, the commission is satisfied with the performance of his office.”

At the all-party meeting today, the three main Opposition parties alleged partisan behaviour by Gupta’s office and the districts administration.

All three parties referred to the recent controversy over the intimidation of the Habra-II BDO by suspected Trinamul supporters led by local MLA Dhiman Roy.

“The CEO’s office has been functioning like a post-office, looking away from violations by the Trinamul Congress,” said CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb.

The CPM has sought the removal of IPS officers Ghosh, Mishra, Meerza and Shri Mukesh (SP of Bankura), besides that of Burdwan district magistrate Saumitra Mohan.

The Congress delegation today echoed the CPM’s allegations.

The BJP complained that Trinamul leaders had been using microphones despite the high court ban on them during the exam season. The BJP alleged that their workers were being prevented from doing so during campaigns.

Sampath said the election machinery had been ordered to take “visible and palpable” confidence-building measures.

The commission has asked all officials to ensure “quickest possible action” against violations of the model code. It has asked for a status report within three days.