Lok Sabha polls: Why Bengal babus will rather play it safe


By bappaditya paul   

In the run up to the Lok Sabha polls, West Bengal Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) and the district election machineries under him may be facing sharp criticisms for failure to check the Trinamul Congress’ strong-arm tactics, but several experienced bureaucrats in the state opine that the CEO and his team should not be blamed entirely.Mamata BanerjeeThey are pointing to the way the Mamata Banerjee-led state government has treated several senior civil and police officers in the past three years for trying to stick to the rule book to the disadvantage of the ruling dispensation. They maintain that this should explain why the election machineries in the state this time were “playing it safe” vis-à-vis dealing with complaints against the ruling party.

Ever since the Trinamul Congress came to power in West Bengal in May 2011, at least 26 mid and senior level bureaucrats and police officers in the state have faced unceremonious removal from their posts. While several of them were sent on Compulsory Waiting; others were shunted to less significant posts.

The most remarkable among them include the transfer of upright IPS officer, Damayanti Sen, as Kolkata Police’s CP (crime) in February 2012 for contradicting Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s claim that the Park Street rape was a “concocted incident”. Polling boothThen came the unceremonious removal of the Kolkata Police Commissioner R K Pachnanda in February 2013 for acting tough against Trinamul Congress-backed hooligans who had shot dead a policeman during a campus violence at Garden Reach.

Mr Umapada Chatterjee, the state’s director of information, was removed in mid 2013 for clearing advertisement dues to Ganashankti, a vernacular daily published by the CPI-M.

This was followed by the removal of the Siliguri Police Commissioner K Jayaraman and the state’s registrar of publications Bishmoy Roy, at close successions in December 2013.

Mr Jayaraman was removed for arresting the district magistrate of Malda, G Kiran Kumar. in multi-crore graft case at the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA); Mr Roy was shunted out for standing by a insecticide sprayer who was falsely implicated in an alleged arson bid at Writers’ Buildings that was later found to be a hoax. Both these officers are still on Compulsory Waiting.    Nabanna in Howrah ~ Bengal's new seat of power“Given the happenings of the past three years, which officer will dare take the ruling Trinamul Congress head-on, especially during a Lok Sabha poll? All the officers know, after the election, they will be again at the mercy of the state government of Miss Banerjee,” said a senior bureaucrat on conditions of anonymity.

“The 2011 Assembly election was different, as the Left Front was an outgoing government and a strong anti-incumbency blowing in the state. Hence, the bureaucrats could act without any fear and favour,” he added.

Going by the Section 28 (A) of the Representation of the People Act 1951, all government officials involved with election are deemed on deputation to the Election Commission (EC) for the entire election process and the EC can take disciplinary action against them for inaction or bias.

But once an election is over, all officers will again come under the full control of the state government, who will decide on their postings, promotions and all other employment related issues. ECI headquarters in New DelhiA senior EC official however maintained that the poll panel has powers to debar a civil or police officer from all future election duties.

“Debarring an officer from election duty means that she or he will have to be removed from posts such as DM, ADM, SDO, BDO, SP and ASP etc before every elections as these are notified positions that play a crucial role in the electoral process and this really counts,” the EC official said.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 6 April 2014.)


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