The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Writers' not right for poll boss
- EC asks election officer to find a new office

Calcutta, Oct. 30: The Election Commission wants Ben- gal's chief electoral officer to move out of Writers' Buildings for an existence away from the government's shadow of influence.

In a letter to the officer, the commission has asked him to 'initiate steps' to shift his office out of the secretariat 'as soon as possible'.

'We want the chief electoral officer to operate from an independent office away from the government of the day. His office should be accessible to all political parties and common people,' election commissioner N. Gopalaswami told The Telegraph from Delhi.

'We have received the commission's instruction on moving out. As soon as the government allots us space, we will shift. The poll panel wants this office to be independent. The commission's headquarters in Delhi are also in an independent building on Ashoka Road, not in South Block,' said Debashish Sen, the state's chief electoral officer.

Sen has asked the PWD to arrange for an approximately 12,000-sq ft space in the vicinity of Writers' on 'priority basis'. The new office will house around 170 staff members of his department in addition to a computer section, conference room, visitor's room, electronic photo identity card centre, a grievance and helpline cell and a media centre.

'The chief electoral officer's image of fairness and neutrality takes a beating if he continues to function under the shadow of the existing government. The idea is to insulate his office from the pressures of the ruling party while making him accessible to the Opposition parties and common people,' a commission official said from Delhi.

Political parties in the state were divided in their reaction to the directive.

'It is highly motivated and provocative. The commission is increasingly behaving in an autocratic manner. If it's taking so much trouble to provide insulation, why can't it bring its own cadre from Delhi to conduct state elections' The state's recruits might also be influenced by the ruling party,' said Ashok Ghosh, the state secretary of the Forward Bloc.

Expectedly, leader of Opposition Pankaj Banerjee welcomed the directive, saying it was a long-pending Trinamul Congress demand. 'As MLAs and MPs, we have access to Writers' Buildings, but common people cannot reach the chief electoral officer as he sits in a protected area. Now, these people will get to meet him and register their complaints in person,' Banerjee said.

Attempts to contact state CPM secretary Anil Biswas for comment proved futile.

Bengal is not the only state where the office of the chief electoral officer sits in the main secretariat. Punjab, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab, and Assam also figure on the list.

Deputy election commissioner R.C. Mishra said: 'In the first phase, we have notified Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Pondicherry as these states are going to polls next year. We want the chief electoral officers to relocate before the elections.'

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