Election Commission should make poll duty pleasant




By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS,

The November-December election in five states produced some fascinating results. But they also caused tremendous hardships to central and Delhi government employees on what turned out to be a long and tough polling day in Delhi - without necessary transport arrangements, food and more.

The Election Commission is now in the process of initiating action against some employees who it feels did not rise to the occasion. Letters demanding explanations have gone out to allegedly errant employees.

How was the Dec 4 balloting conducted in Delhi?

Election duty was divided into nine districts. Most people were assigned work in their own districts. But those from Laxmi Bai Nagar in south Delhi found themselves sent miles away to Laxmi Nagar in east Delhi because of an obvious clerical error.

Everyone was told to report at their polling booths positively by 5.30 a.m. on their own or reach the previous night and spend the night in the polling centre. No transport arrangement was made for the employees although DTC and Metro services began early that day. Those who took private cabs - and had receipts to show -- were told they would get only "the basic fare".

Everyone was called for duty irrespective of age and health. A senior employee on leave preparatory to retirement was forced to come. So were those who had genuine personal reasons not to work that day. A disabled man's desperate pleas to spare him were ignored.

Each polling booth had a Presiding Officer and three or four Polling Officers. A Sectoral Officer was in charge of a school building housing three or four polling booths. But employees' ranks were blissfully ignored while assigning work. Thus, in what turned to be bureaucratic embarrassment, an Under Secretary from the central government ended up reporting to a junior officer from the Delhi administration. This was not the only such case.

The Multi Tasking Staff or MTS - earlier called peons - were mostly to be assigned the task of applying indelible ink on voters. In some cases, this duty was given away to senior government officers and the MTS staff was told to do work beyond their capability.

Ironically, while government employees were given snacks during the days of their training, which itself was most chaotic, no arrangement for food was made on the day it was most needed - Dec 4 -- despite the fact that several employees were diabetic. There was no provision for medical help though many of those called to work were in their 50s and 60s, some not in good health.

There was heavy, non-stop polling on Dec 4. In most polling booths, officials struggled to cope with the rush. In some cases, voting continued beyond 8 p.m. The later procedure for depositing the sealed ballot boxes was so elaborate that it led to long queues outside the relevant centres. Scores of employees who had reported for work by 5.30 a.m. stood in serpentine queues till late at night, hungry and tired. At Akshardam, this led to slogan shouting against the Election Commission, forcing the poll panel to suddenly tweak what were supposed to be inviolable rules.

Employees - none was ready to be quoted by name as they work for the government - complain that the honorarium paid by the Election Commission differed: Rs.1,350 in some districts and Rs.1,100 in others.

While Sectoral Officers had official transport, the Presiding and Polling Officers were even barred from bringing their own vehicles. To most people this made no sense.

Those who were involved in election work are proud of their contribution but unanimous that the Election Commission has to be a little humane. "We don't mind doing this again but it will be best if the Election Commission learns from all that has gone wrong and makes amends," one central government officer says. "The Commission should not lord over us just because it becomes the supreme authority during elections. Those called to work should enjoy what they are doing and not feel it is a torture. Is this asking for too much?"

(23.01.2014 - M.R. Narayan Swamy is Executive Editor of IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on narayan.swamy@ians.in)