|Mira Pande in her office on her last day. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Calcutta, July 21: Mira Pande, who stood up to the Mamata Banerjee government time and again, relinquished charge on completion of her term today, exactly two years after the administration entered into a conflict with the state election commissioner over the conduct of rural polls.
The 1974-batch IAS officer termed “rewarding” her 63-month tenure at the helm of the constitutional body entrusted with conducting rural and civic polls in Bengal.
“My term has been challenging and rewarding…. There was a lot that I had sought to achieve as the commissioner. Though much has been achieved, much remains,” Pande said this evening.
The Trinamul government locked horns with the poll panel for the first time over the conduct of the panchayat elections in 2012. At the July 21 rally two years ago, Mamata had vowed to advance the polls, suggesting her eagerness to tap her reservoir of support.
According to Nabanna sources, the government would have managed to advance the elections had Pande not come in the way.
The former additional chief secretary, known in bureaucratic circles for being a stickler for rules, disallowed the government from holding the rural polls before the end of the five-year term in 2013.
Pande also made the state arrange for central forces — for the first time in the country for rural polls.
Asked about the kind of co-operation she received from the government, Pande said: “In any such constitutional post, there are challenges to be mitigated. I, along with my able officials, always tried to do what is right…. Hopefully, that’s how history will remember us.”
The exit of Pande, an MSc in social planning from London School of Economics, leaves scope for ambiguity on the onus of fixing poll dates and phases, currently done by the state government.
Pande declined comment on her successor S.R. Upadhyay, the first WBCS officer at the post, and wished him “the very best”.
Upadhyay is expected to assume charge tomorrow.
She expressed hope that the commission will “stay the course on all that has been initiated”, asked about the ongoing court battle with the government over the delay in holding polls to 17 civic bodies.
“I hope everyone realises that the commission is a constitutional body that continues irrespective of the individual at the helm…. I hope the commission will stay the course on all that has been initiated,” she said.
According to Nabanna sources, the government “heaved a sigh of relief” at Pande’s retirement. “The commission under Pande has caused the government much embarrassment. Hopefully, things will change drastically now,” an official said.
Asked about her post-retirement plans, Pande said she would spend her life in “peace and quiet”. The 65-year-old, according to a bureaucrat close to her, would dedicate more time to reading, listening to music and gardening.
“She is an avid reader of medieval history and literature. She loves classical music. She takes great interest in gardening. These are some of the things she said she would devote more time to,” the bureaucrat said.
He added: “She has great interest in textiles and might write a book on the history and evolution of some of India’s famous textiles.”