P R K Naidu an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer was deputed to West Bengal to ensure free and fair polls in 2011. He took his job too seriously and tried cleansing the political system by lecturing villagers in Bardhman district about petty politics while clearly stating his bias against the Left parties.
Although Naidu did not seek favours like some other election observers but he overstepped his brief by making his bias against Left parties apparent to the electorate, the Election Commission said in a reply to an RTI application filed by this reporter. The inquiry was conducted after a complaint by CPI(M).
More than impropriety his case also pointed at the Election Commission's inability to ensure that hundreds of babus appointed, as election observers perform their duty in right earnest.
If an officer is found wanting in performing his or her duty the commission cannot take any punitive action against them. Atmost it can transfer the official and ask the cadre controlling authority to take action, which rarely happens.
From the commission's RTI reply it appears that the commission itself is wanting in ensuring that the lax officials are penalised.
Over a year after an observer in 2012 Goa elections was found to be seeking undue favour from a candidate including stay in a beach resort, the commission is yet to find out whether the allegation was true or not. The RTI reply says that the report has been called from the Chief Electoral Officer of Goa and is being awaited.
That was not a case in isolation even though the commission received only one complaint from Goa. Senior babus say for some election observers the job was a paid holiday and they even lobbied to get it. They were seen with their family members strolling on Goa's popular beaches rather than acting as third party monitors.
It is not that senior bureaucrats do election work free of cost. Every official appointed as election observer gets honorarium of about Rs 10,000 over and above their regular salaries.
The commission in the RTI reply said since January 2011 it had disbursed close to Rs 2 crore as honorarium for the job. The money is paid after the elections are over.
Maintaining that the commission tries to maintain a strict vigil on performance of election observers, senior EC officers admit of limitations in exerting pressure. "Many officers come from different government ministries and departments and are not directly accountable to us," an EC official said, asking the government for mandatory compliance with the commission's directives on observers for election period.