The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rural poll turns real social leveller for some

May 9: Sisir Ranjan Pal runs his eyes over the pages of the guidebook for polling station chiefs, but fails to fathom anything.

“It’s all written in English, so I don’t know what to make of it,” Pal, a peon with the State Bank of India’s Raiganj branch, said gingerly.

Pal, who studied up to Class VIII, has no option, though. Appointed a presiding officer by the state election commission for Sunday’s panchayat election, he is supposed to go through the guide before embarking on what he calls an awesome task.

“I don’t know why they chose me to do this job, something I am not capable of,” he moaned. “I could serve as a poling assistant in a booth, but certainly not as a presiding officer.”

In Jalpaiguri, Rohit Tiwari is stumped as well. The deputy field director of the Buxa Tiger Reserve has been appointed presiding officer of a polling station.

“I never thought that as a senior Indian Forest Service Officer I would be asked to act as a presiding officer, something usually junior officials perform,” Tiwari said.

He said he was trying to get in touch with district magistrate Subrata Gupta. “I just want to find out whether I have been appointed a presiding officer by mistake or it was intentional.”

Pal is one of the six Class IV bank employees drafted as presiding officer in North Dinajpur.

Among the rest are Nepal Dutta, Pradip Sarkar and Dilip Mahato, all of whom had studied up to Class VIII. They are all flummoxed.

Pal said he met local election officials and appealed to them, but to no avail. “I am not trying to shirk poll duty, but they should realise what I can do and what I cannot.”

Utpal Dutta, a State Bank of India Staff Association secretary, said the district election officials “forced” the poll job on Pal and the rest. “The election commission is asking too much of them.”

Raiganj Block Development Officer Pratip Kumar Mondal, tasked with overseeing the poll in his block, said they went by the salaries of the employees, not by their qualifications or designations. “I realise it could be a problem for them, but it’s too late for us to do anything about it,” he said.

Tiwari called his appointment illegal. But sub-divisional officer Jiban Krishna Sadhuka, also the returning officer, said he drafted him as the deputy field director had “paid no heed” to his letters seeking poling personnel from the tiger reserve.

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