Poll panel hopes transfer will send out a signal

LONG WAIT: Women demanding flood relief in Madurai. Should they wait for the elections to be over ? Photo: K. Ganesan  

V. Jayanth

NewsAnalysis It expects a "completely neutral bureaucracy" and "totally free and fair elections"

CHENNAI: The Election Commission saw it coming. From March 1, when the model code of conduct came into force, it has been besieged with complaints from all sides about violations by rival camps.

While the political battle was to be expected, it is the role of officials that has caused "serious concern" to the Commission.

Senior EC officials, who visited Tamil Nadu recently, say about 100 government orders were issued on March 1, the day the poll dates were announced by the Commission. This led to serious doubts and a thorough scrutiny of all the orders. Except the "routine orders," and those providing "clear evidence" that they were "already under preparation," the election authorities directed the State administration to keep all the others in abeyance.

Action initiated

"It is not just the State Government or the ruling party and administration that we looked at. There were complaints against Union Ministers, the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and several other agencies. Prompt action has been initiated in all cases and the EC has received explanations on the follow-up action," a senior Commission official in New Delhi said over telephone.

The EC is hoping that the directive to Tamil Nadu to shift the Chennai Police Commissioner will be a "signal and a warning" to the entire bureaucracy not only in Tamil Nadu, but also in all States going to polls. The Commission wants to make it clear that it expects a "completely neutral bureaucracy, and totally free and fair elections."

It is prepared to walk that extra mile to ensure this. "All officials connected with election work have come under the scanner, but we will not initiate action unless there is a prima facie case in the complaint of violation," the official insists.

An opportunity

A former Chief Secretary of the State says: "This is an opportunity provided by the Election Commission to crack down on sycophancy and put an end to the politicisation of bureaucracy. Be it in Administrative or Police Service, there are black sheep who want to curry favours with the political leadership of the day. We need to revive the professionalism in administration. Governments may come and go, but the bureaucracy goes on forever. The system has to be protected."

State officials argue: "We have a job to do and we are doing it. We are also answerable to the people. The distribution of free saris and dhotis has been stopped; the disbursement of flood relief in some areas has not been completed.

These are serious problems that need to be addressed. Imagine, from March 1 to May 8, we cannot do any of these things that may seem to be a violation."

Clearance obtained

They also point out that many of the Department Secretaries have obtained clearance from the Chief Electoral Officer here to implement some of the orders passed on March 1.

A side effect of the action could be a further clampdown on dissemination of information. Officials in this administration have always been wary of speaking to the media and the Police Commissioner's case may strengthen that resolve and trend.

But the general mood appears to be sombre and officials seem to be taking it in their stride.

But the problem with some of the bureaucrats here is that they have been "identified" with a particular Government.

When there is a change of government they are shunted out and replaced with "trusted confidants." And the wound festers.