P&RD commissioner selected as block level observer
KOLKATA, 13 JULY: In an odd move, the State Election Commission (SEC) has appointed the commissioner of the state panchayat and rural development department (P&RD), Mr Subhasis Moitra, as a block level observer for the ongoing panchyat polls. Mr Moitra has been assigned to Kaliganj block in Nadia where the elections will take place in the fourth phase on 22 July.
Speaking of the rulebook, it is not wrong to depute the P&RD commissioner as block level observer but the move is unprecedented in the rural poll history of Bengal. The commissioner being the P&RD department head is usually kept out of field level poll duty, especially when it concerns a panchayat election.
“It’s like deputing a police commissioner to oversee the security arrangements of a poll booth,” said an official posted in the panchayat department headquarters in Kolkata. "Had it not been the commissioner but any other officer of similar rank, there wouldn’t have been any issue at all. Appointing the commissioner as block level observer is humiliating not only for the person concerned, but for the department as a whole.”
Mr Moitra, originally a 1980 batch West Bengal Civil Service (Executive) officer was promoted to the IAS cadre in 2010. He is now a special secretary and because of the SEC order; is being compelled to carryout the block level poll observer duty alongside assistant secretaries who are three steps junior to him.
Besides, the P&RD commissioner is responsible for implementing the Centre-funded National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) and disbursement/monitoring of funds received from the 13th Finance Commission of the Union government.
Widow, old age and disability pensions that are awarded to individuals in rural areas are under NSAP and the commissioner’s signature is necessary for the release of such funds. The panchayat department officials said that the commissioner’s prolonged absence from office would hamper these works. Mr Moitra, however, sounded reluctant to talk about his poll job. “It’s an official duty that has been assigned to me and I don’t want to brood over this.” SEC secretary, Tapas Ray, defended the move saying that they have deputed several senior officers as block level observers.
“For district level observers we fixed the cut off to 1999 batch promoted IAS, beyond that all others have been appointed for the blocks. In fact there is one gentleman who will retire in August but have been appointed as a block observer and hence I don’t think we have done anything humiliating to the P&RD commissioner,” Mr Ray said.