Panel turns down request to review order to transfer officers

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday night agreed to shift six officers from election duty as directed by the Election Commission, but alleged that the panel was playing political games.

She relented after the commission rejected the State government’s request to review its Monday decision to transfer a District Magistrate and five superintendents of police on complaints of bias. The panel, in a reply to the Chief Secretary, said the order should be complied with by 10 a.m. on Wednesday, sources told The Hindu.

At a hurriedly called press conference in Durgapur in Burdwan district, Ms. Banerjee, denying a “constitutional crisis,” said she did not disrespect the commission, but did not approve of the political games. She would write to it and record her complaints. The commission had “interfered” in law and order and hence would have to ensure free and fair polling.

“These are sensitive areas [from where the officers are transferred] and the commission and the political parties [who complained to the commission] will now have to take the responsibility for fair polling,” she said. “There is a shortage of officers, and all these [those to be transferred] are people of integrity. They will be back to their districts and posts after the election, even if transferred now.”

Earlier, the commission said it was well within its rights to withhold elections in West Bengal if the government refused to comply with its order. The Chief Secretary had written to the commission that transfers would lead to “administrative problems,” and the order was issued without consulting the government. The commission had named replacements for the transferred officials. Ms. Banerjee accused the commission, the Centre, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party of conspiring against her. On Tuesday morning, she refrained from attacking the commission while delivering an election speech at Koatshila in Purulia.

Legal experts said though the model code of conduct was only a set of guidelines for the free and fair conduct of elections, the Supreme Court had upheld them on several occasions and they had acquired quasi-judicial sanctity.