Notwithstanding the claim of the Punjab government that the panchayat elections were conducted in an "efficient" manner, there are reports that the government compromised with the sanctity of the polls by allegedly deploying peons and drivers as polling officers.
Needless to say, most of the peons and drivers, who were put on the election duty, were not suitably qualified to look after works like verification of voters, issuance of ballots and counting of votes.
In Ludhiana district, Sukhdev Singh, a driver working in Ludhiana Municipal Corporation (LMC), was deputed as the polling officer at booth number 56 of Ludhiana-1 development block at Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar village.
Sukhdev confided in HT that he was only a matriculate and is working as driver in the corporation for 10 years, though his official post was that of electrical pump operator. Interestingly, some of the villagers had even questioned Sukhdev's appointment as polling officer on the polling day.
Sukhdev is not the only one from the Ludhiana MC who had been assigned key poll tasks they performed for the first time in their career. As per sources in the LMC, at least 8 drivers were deputed as polling officers in various villages. As per reports, peons and drivers from other departments had been assigned similar tasks.
In a village in Ludhiana, a block development and panchayat official (BDPO) after finding that peons and drivers were part of the polling parties even had sought their replacement with well qualified staff on the eve of polling. "Peons and driver had been deputed as polling officers even during the zila parishad and block samiti polls and we had objected strongly to that," the BDPO confirmed on the condition of anonymity.
Information collected from Ludhiana, Bathinda, Moga and other districts revealed that the practice was followed there as well.
As per procedure, while making preparation for the polls, the national informatics centre (NIC) asked for the soft copy from different departments about the details of availability of officials for election duty. After that special software of the NIC, allocates the duties for different booths in a set way.
"The departments reveal employee's class not the post. Since many peons and drivers fall in Class -3 category, they may have been assigned poll duties," NIC incharge, Ludhiana, Kashmir Singh, said.
Ludhiana deputy commissioner-cum-district electoral officer, Rahul Tiwari, however, did not find anything wrong in peons and drivers working as polling officers. "There are no clear-cut instructions from the election office on this. Moreover, at booth level they were assigned jobs such as putting poll mark on the fingers of voters, etc," he said.