The Telegraph
Tuesday , April 8 , 2014
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EC strikes without waiting for govt
Panel move has no precedent

Mamata Banerjee arrives for the public meeting in Burdwan’s Jamalpur on Monday. Picture by Munshi Muklesur Rahaman

April 7: The Election Commission’s decision not to consult the Bengal government before removing district police chiefs and other senior district officials from poll duty today indicated that the panel was convinced about the ruling establishment’s interference in their work, sources in Nabanna said.

The unprecedented move to act against a district magistrate, two additional district magistrates and four superintendents of police became a talking point at Nabanna, where officials discussed in hushed tones the underlying implication of the commission’s decision.

“Normally, the commission seeks suggestions on replacements of officers. It asks for three alternatives for each vacancy. This time, the commission chose the officials from a list of IAS and IPS officers and directed the state government to replace them. This has not happened before,” said a senior state government official.

The seven district officials against whom action was taken today had been under the commission’s scanner for allegations of bias towards the ruling establishment and for inaction on complaints related to violation of the model code.

The eighth was Alok Rajoria, the Birbhum SP who was transferred to fill a vacancy in Jhargram. Rajoria, against whom there has been no complaint, will continue as a poll duty officer.

Criticising the commission’s move, chief minister Mamata Banerjee today said: “There is a system behind transfers. They will decide who they will transfer. They will decide who will be posted in Burdwan, Jhargram. They did not even talk to the state government. The state government did not submit any panel (of officials).”

According to a government official, the way the commission went about the replacement and gave chief electoral officer Sunil Kumar Gupta the clean chit had made it clear that the poll panel was aware of the “gap” between Gupta’s office and the civil administration.

Gupta had been prodded by the Election Commission to take independent action on complaints and not forward them to the Nirvachan Sadan in Delhi.

“This (the move) means the commission has realised that the officers on poll duty are under pressure from the ruling establishment. The directive from the EC can be seen as an action against biased officials and a message to everybody connected with poll duty,” said a senior government official at Nabanna.

Sources said the CPM, BJP and the Congress had been regularly lodging complaints of inaction against several officials engaged in poll duty since the model code of conduct kicked in from March 5 So far, more than 200 complaints against government officials have been lodged with the commission.

“Barring a few, all complaints of model code violation were lodged against the ruling party,” said an official in the CEO’s office.

The Opposition parties had yesterday raised the issue before the full bench of the commission.

“The commission top brass was surprised that every political party, except Trinamul, alleged that several officials discharging poll duties in the districts were not impartial. The commission had taken note of these complaints of inaction,” said the official.

The official added that all Opposition parties had lodged complaints against Sanjay Bansal, the North 24-Parganas district magistrate.

“During the meeting with the district magistrates, the commission bench told Bansal that most of the parties it met yesterday had lodged complaints against him,” said an official who was present there.

Senior officials from the districts said that the commission had made it clear during the meeting that they were not only tracking the complaints that were being lodged, but also studying about the past records of elections in Bengal.

“From the reactions of the commission it was clear that it had a detailed knowledge of the conduct of the panchayat polls last year,” said an official.

In the rural polls, more than 8,000 seats went in favour of Trinamul uncontested, sparking protests from the Opposition that alleged that the administrative machinery, under the instructions from the ruling party, played a partisan role.