The Telegraph
Wednesday , March 5 , 2014
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State fails to meet poll panel’s IAS demand

Calcutta, March 4: The Bengal government is ready to spare 21 IAS officers less than the number sought by the Election Commission for Lok Sabha poll duty, but the panel hinted it would not compromise.

Yesterday, the Bengal government sent a list of 65 IAS officers, of ranks between joint secretary and secretary, to Nirvachan Sadan, 21 less than what the poll panel had asked for and 20 more than what the chief minister was willing to spare.

The Bengal government sent another list of 47 WBCS officers, suggesting they could also be deployed on poll duty.

Sources said the Election Commission was unwilling to accept less than 86 IAS officers.

Last year, the state election commission and the Bengal government had locked horns over the panchayat elections. The issue of primacy in conducting the rural polls had landed in the Supreme Court.

There is no scope of such a legal tangle in case of the Lok Sabha polls as there is no ambiguity in the Election Commission of India’s primacy over the states and the Centre in elections the panel conducts.

A Nabanna source said today: “We had suggested that we send a single list of IAS and WBCS officers, but it was unacceptable to the commission. The chief minister wanted us to send no more than 45 officers, but the commission’s orders must be followed.”

The source said it was binding on the state to follow the orders of the Election Commission of India.

In January, the central poll panel had sought 86 IAS officers of ranks between joint secretary and secretary from the Bengal government for deployment on general election duty. The state government had replied that only 90-odd IAS officers in Bengal fitted the bill and if most of them were released, the administration would suffer.

Sources said that while IAS officers were deployed as observers in parliamentary constituencies, WBCS officers could be posted in Assembly segments, which rules permit. Each Lok Sabha constituency has seven Assembly segments.

Of the sanctioned strength of 359 Bengal-cadre IAS officers, the state has 220 at present. Another 30 officers are on central deputation. In contrast, the state has 1,767 WBCS officers. Mamata Banerjee often blames the Centre for the shortage of IAS officers in Bengal.

Observers in Lok Sabha constituencies monitor the process of nomination filing, scrutiny and withdrawal of candidatures. They also oversee the training of election staff, visit polling stations, supervise voting, counting and security arrangements and review law and order.

The Nabanna official said the government was “trying to find a middle path”.

“Our list has 21 IAS officers less than the number demanded by the poll panel. We could send 21 WBCS officers instead,” he said.

But the poll panel is not willing to compromise. “The primacy of the commission in Assembly, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha polls is beyond question. Its orders must be followed by the states and the Centre. If we ask for IAS officers, we must get IAS officers,” said a Nirvachan Sadan official.

A source in the Bengal chief electoral officer’s office said a dialogue with the government was on to sort out the issue.