| Security personnel outside a strongroom in Calcutta. Picture by Pabitra Das
Calcutta, May 10: The state government is unwilling to foot the whopping Rs 8.7-crore bill that election observers are likely to run up by the end of the polls.
Officials in the election department said they were taking stock of the 'unreasonable expenses' made by some observers and the Election Commission might be approached to bear the extra burden.
'We might move the EC, citing the abnormal expenditure made by some observers and request that the officers themselves foot the bill,' a senior election department official said.
The chief electoral officer's office has already sought a report on the bills that Taltala observer Ajay Pal Singh ran up during his three-week stay in the city last month.
'We're compiling an expenditure statement for the observer, Ajay Pal Singh,' an official said.
The Telegraph had earlier reported that Singh had run up a food bill of Rs 6,500 in the first five days of his stay. He also bought a shaving kit for Rs 680 at the state's expense.
Singh has been replaced by a 1996-batch IAS officer from Madhya Pradesh, Raj Kumari Khanna.
'Ajay Pal Singh is not the only one. There are women officers who demanded ' and got ' Maybelline lipsticks and men who bought Garnier products at the state's expense. Quite a few observers also dined at five-star hotels,' a senior election official said.
According to preliminary calculations made by the chief electoral officer's office, the election department has spent over Rs 2 lakh on each observer on an average each month.
The figure, however, includes the cost of items which the observers are entitled to ' airfare, transit accommodation, expenses on car, honorarium, security and escort services as well as phone/fax/xerox and stationary .
The EC had deputed 294 general observers and 66 expenditure observers for over a month in the run-up to the elections. At present, one observer is monitoring the counting process in each district.
Chief electoral officer Debashis Sen admitted that his department was in the middle of a stocktaking exercise on the money being spent on the observers. 'We're only doing it to account for the expenses in our budget,' he added.
Officials said there have been instances when state governments have lodged complaints with the commission on the 'extravagance' of poll observers.
'In such cases, the poll panel orders an inquiry asking for the officers' expenditure statements. After the probe, the officers have sometimes been asked to pay up for their 'unauthorised expenses',' the official said.
Colour-coded cards have been issued to those entering counting centres tomorrow. Tea/tiffin boys will carry brown cards, while counting assistants and supervisors will carry white. Separate passes have been issued to candidates and their agents, voting machine carriers and journalists.