Calcutta, July 16: The Bengal government has dipped into the state civil service archives for the first time to find a successor to Mira Pande, the feisty state election commissioner who had refused to toe the chief minister’s line on the panchayat polls.
The government today issued an order appointing S.R. Upadhyay, a retired WBCS officer, as the state election commissioner, departing from the practice of filling the post from the pool of retired IAS officers.
Upadhyay, who will take charge on July 21, retired as a special secretary in 2013 and is now serving as an officer on special duty at Raj Bhavan after securing an extension of service,
“He will be the sixth state election commissioner but the first WBCS officer to head it,” said a government official.
An amendment that the Left government had introduced in 2010 has empowered Mamata to designate to the post a WBCS officer with 25 years of service.
Till now, retired officers from the IAS — the service that does boast officers with spunk though not everyone displays it every time — had occupied the post of the state election commissioner who oversees rural and civic polls.
Former chief secretaries Tarun Dutta, Anish Majumdar and Ashok Gupta and additional chief secretaries Ajoy Sinha and Pande had held the post till now.
Pande’s battle, which she took all the way to the Supreme Court, ahead of the panchayat polls had tormented Mamata. The commission is now locked in another legal battle with the government over polls to 17 civic bodies.
The state government had tried to clip the wings of Pande by making it a three-member body like the Election Commission of India. But the initiative had fallen flat as the Constitution made it clear that the state election commission would be led by “a” commissioner.
The appointment from the WBCS has fuelled theories that the government was looking for a friendly face.
“As the head of a constitutional body, the commissioner has the right to summon senior officers such as the chief secretary, home secretary and the DGP. Will a WBCS officer, although with long service, summon the courage to do that?” an official asked.
The post of secretary to the commission has also gone to a WBCS officer — Osman Gani, who was a joint secretary in the public works department.
The state poll commission plays a key role. According to Article 243K of the Indian Constitution, once the local body elections are declared, the administration comes under the state election commission.
“During the time of Pande, the chief minister realised how a non-pliable officer can challenge the state,” said a bureaucrat. “The new decision will make the commission defunct unless the appointee rises to the challenge.”