Exhausted by legal battle, Bengal poll panel shelves district tours

By bappaditya paul
Drained of much of their time and energy
in the protracted legal battle with the state government that included making several visits to Delhi for the Supreme Court hearing, the West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) top brass have shelved their district tours this time, which is a customary practice before any election.

West Bengal state election commissioner Ms Mira Pande
West Bengal state election commissioner Ms Mira Pande

The poll panel commissioner and the secretary usually undertake such tours to make a first-hand assessment of poll preparedness in the districts. During such visits, apart from holding meetings with the civil administration and the police, the SEC also meets local political leaders and hears out their grievances and suggestions. The panel than spells out necessary corrective measures to the local administration.

In fact, soon after assuming office on 9 July 2009, the state election commissioner, Ms Mira Pande, had visited Siliguri in connection with the municipal corporation election there on 13 September that year. Also, Ms Pande and SEC secretary Tapas Ray  toured Durgapur and East Midnapore to take stock of the poll preparedness in the run-up to the municipal elections in June last year.

Supreme Court of IndiaBut according to Mr Ray, this time round, having spent a good deal of time in the legal tussle with the government on the phasing and security arrangements for the rural polls, they will not be able to tour the districts. “We are already racing against time to complete the procedural works relating to the polls and hence, there is no scope for touring the districts,” the poll panel secretary said. “May be we will explore visiting the districts during the later poll phases.”

In connection with the hearing in the Supreme Court, Ms Pande had to visit New Delhi thrice on 21, 27 June and 1 July, Mr Ray twice on 22 June and 1 July, and the SEC joint secretary, Mr Sabbyasachi Ghosh, went there once on 21 June.

SEC secretary Tapas RayHaving won the legal battle, the SEC is now holding at least two administrative meetings a day, besides seeing representatives from various political parties and organisations who keep dropping in, many a times at a very short notice. The poll panel has a skeleton staff of around 20, including the officers, to handle such a voluminous job.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 6 July 2013.)

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