Saturday, December 30, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

EC can suspend poll officers
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Dec 29 — Ahead of the crucial Assembly poll in four states and a union territory, the Election Commission (EC) has been armed with the powers to suspend or substitute any public servant, including police officers, for insubordination or dereliction of duty while on election duty.

The commission would also have the power to recommend to the competent authority disciplinary action against erring officers. Such recommendation shall be promptly acted upon and the action taken would be communicated to the EC within six months from the date of the commission’s directive, the Chief Election Commissioner, Dr M.S. Gill told newspersons here today.

An office memorandum in this regard has been issued by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions to all central authorities and state and union territory governments recently.

This brings to an end a long-standing tussle between the EC and the Centre over the issue of control over polling staff. While the EC had got these powers through a parliamentary Act way back in 1989, the Centre was blocking its implementation.

Parliament had amended the Representation of the Peoples Act (RPA), 1950 and 1951, in 1989 to add Sections 13CC and 28A to give the EC the powers of “supervision, control and discipline” over all election staff, including police officers.

However, the commission’s efforts to use these powers were thwarted by the Cabinet Secretariat, which argued that the commission could not take disciplinary action on its own but could only recommend that such action be taken.

The then CEC, Mr T.N. Seshan took the matter to the Supreme Court where it was pending all these years. Dr Gill, who succeeded as the CEC after Mr Seshan, wrote to successive Prime Ministers, including Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, over the government’s wisdom in blocking a law passed by Parliament.

The two-page directive of the Centre clearly stated that the disciplinary functions of the EC would include making recommendation to the competent authority for taking disciplinary action for any act of dereliction of duty while on election duty.

Such recommendations should be promptly acted upon by the disciplinary authority and action taken would be communicated to the commission within a period of six months from the date of the EC’s recommendations.

The Centre on September 21 informed the Supreme Court that it had agreed to give the commission complete administrative control over the election staff on deputation for election duty despite a majority of states opposing it.

Asked about what action the Election Commission could take if any of the state government refused to abide by the Centre’s directive, Dr Gill said, “We will cross the bridge when we come to it.” He, however, felt there would not be any opposition to this directive since the government at the Centre is an alliance of over 20 main political parties in the country and they are part of the government’s decision.

On the model code of conduct, another issue pending before the Supreme Court, the CEC hoped the Centre would withdraw its appeal before the apex court. The Centre had contended that the code should come into force from the date of notification and not from the date of announcement of the schedule of election.

The Chief Election Commission also said the CPM had regained the status of a national party following amendments liberalising the Election Symbols Order carried out by the commission.

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