The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Party strikes at poll panel
- CPM and its employees’ union see ‘affront’ in decision to bring in election officers from other states

Calcutta, April 23: The CPM today indicated that it would make an issue out of the Election Commission’s decision to deploy poll personnel from other states on May 10.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas said: “We did not object when the poll panel decided to engage more central government employees to oversee the elections here. We also had nothing to say when it made a move to bring polling personnel from other states. But why will not this be applicable to other states'”

In what could be read as a pointer to the increasing tension between the party and the panel, Biswas said: “One is forced to conclude that the commission is playing a partisan role as far as Bengal is concerned.”

Taking a cue from the headquarters, the party-controlled Coordination Committee of government employees, which used to play a key role in conducting elections in the state, described the decision as “a direct affront to the credibility of state government officials”.

In a letter addressed to chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy, committee general secretary Smarajit Roy Chowdhury said: “We lodge our strong protest against the discriminatory and derogatory stance taken by the poll panel over deployment of state government officials from outside the state.”

A copy of the letter has been sent to chief electoral officer Basudeb Banerjee.

Roy Chowdhury said Bengal government officials had played a pivotal and “efficient” role in electioneering since Independence. “Our neutrality and impartiality even under most difficult and trying circumstances have earned praise from different quarters, including the Election Commission. But the poll panel’s recent decision has come as a blow to our pride and self-respect,” he said.

Leaders of the committee also objected to the panel’s directive to appoint only central government officials as presiding officers in the three Parliamentary constituencies in Calcutta and, as far as possible, in the districts.

“It is perhaps indisputable that state government officials have an edge over their central counterparts because of their long association and experience in election duties,” Roy Chowdhury argued.

The chief electoral officer said he is yet to receive a copy of the letter. Banerjee added: “We have received a list comprising nearly 300 government employees, including 78 senior officials, from Bihar. They will undergo training before being deployed as polling personnel in different booths across Bengal.”

Opposition leaders greeted the Election Commission’s directive. “We welcome the poll panel’s move to deploy government officials from other states as polling personnel here. This will ensure free and fair polling in the state,” said Pankaj Banerjee, the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly and Trinamul Congress spokesman.

Former state Congress chief Somen Mitra demanded that those being brought in must not be guided by those at the helm in the state. “They should be given a free hand so that they can move freely and oversee the polling process independently,” Mitra said.

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