The Election Commission’s (EC) reported recommendation to the Chief Secretary to remove District Collector V.K. Balakrishnan lends credence to the United Democratic Front’s (UDF) serious allegation that the Collector, who is also District Election Officer, functioned in a partisan manner during the election process by paying little attention to the charges of manipulation of the electoral roll for the Kannur Assembly byelection scheduled on November 7.
The action against the District Collector following the UDF’s representation to the EC is seen as a blow on the official election machinery which has been accused of being misused by the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) to manipulate the electoral roll in the constituency where A.P. Abdullakutty, former MP who has joined the Congress after his expulsion from the CPI(M), is pitted against the CPI(M)’s M.V. Jayarajan in a fierce electoral battle. The EC’s recommendation to remove the Collector also lends credibility to the
UDF’s allegation that the official election machinery has been controlled by the ruling party as the election authorities here including the Collector have turned a blind eye to the allegation that large number of CPI(M) workers in neighbouring constituencies have got their names included in the electoral roll for the byelection in the Kannur constituency by producing fake residential certificates issued by village officers and panchayat secretaries concerned.
Alleging serious anomalies in the electoral roll, a UDF delegation led by Kannur MP K. Sudhakaran petitioned the EC to remove all poll officials including the Collector and to post independent officials to
conduct a free and fair election in the constituency. One of the major allegations against the Collector was that he was unresponsive to the UDF’s concern about the enrollment of thousands of voters from other
constituencies in the voters list and the deletion of large number of voters from the roll. The final electoral roll published on October 21 has a total 9,357 new additions and 6,386 deletions.
The main issue raised by the UDF in connection with their allegation of electoral roll manipulation is the election officials’ denial of mandatory period for lodging objections against new additions and deletions. As per the Registration of Electors Rule 1960, as soon as the electoral roll is ready, the registration officer should publish the draft and provide a period of not less than 15 days for lodging claims and complaints about the roll. The UDF alleged that they had not been provided the draft roll. The rule says that if a person has not availed himself or herself of the right to be heard by the registration officer on the draft electoral roll cannot go for appeal on the matter. The core allegation of the UDF is that thousands of new voters have been included in the roll after the draft roll was published and that nobody has been given an opportunity to lodge complaints and claims.
According to the Representation of People’s Act 1950, if an applicant is registered in any other constituency, the officer concerned should inform the officer in the other constituency and the latter should strike off the name. The UDF has cast doubts about many new voters included in the final roll here, alleging that they have been transferred without complying with the rules. Door numbers of uninhabited dwelling places and rented houses have been allegedly used for transferring voters.
The Collector acted as an election agent of the CPI(M), a Congress leader here said alleging that the Collector did not intervene despite repeated pleas to him to intervene to redress the complaints against
the electoral roll.
Mr. Balakrishnan’s complaint against Mr. Sudhakaran for allegedly preventing the Thahsildar, who is the electoral registration officer, from discharging his duties, is also cited as an instance of the Collector’s partisan attitude. Mr. Sudhakaran went to the Tahsildar’s office on October 16 and staged a sit-in demanding the worksheet of new additions in the electoral roll. The UDF leadership says that the
fact that the police registered a case against Mr. Sudhakaran two days after the incident on the basis of a report by the Collector was a clear proof of the latter’s partiality. The UDF also cited the disclosure to the media of his privileged report to the Chief Electoral Officer on Union Minister for Overseas Affairs Vayalar
Ravi’s alleged violation of election code of conduct as yet another instance of his bias.
It may be recalled that Mr. Sudhakaran was the first to fire a salvo against the Collector demanding his removal from the election duties.
The Union Minister for Overseas Affairs Vayalar Ravi later asked the Collector to voluntarily abstain from the election duties to ensure public trust in the election process.