Inadequacies, apathy haunt polling officials

There are nearly 150,000 polling officials, including a large posse of women staff.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Polling officials, who are bound to ensure the exercise of free and fair franchise in the crucial Assembly elections two months away, are finding themselves at the mercy of an inefficient poll administrative set-up that does not have the basic infrastructure envisaged by the Election Commission.

There are nearly 150,000 polling officials, including a large posse of women staff, who would have to spend two days and two nights at 21,498 polling booths for the May 16 election. Each booth will have a presiding officer besides four other officials.

Officials say at the half the number of booths do not adequate number of chairs and the polling centres may not even have toilets with proper sanitation. Some centres may not have sufficient lighting. There have been instances galore of booths functioning out of factory godowns, done up for the occasion.

Most often the brunt of such gross inadequacies is borne by women staff and others, who battle middle-age illnesses. The EC insists that the presiding officer stay at the booth day and night to prevent foul play. If the presiding officer is not at station during the EC inspection, he/she will be suspended on the spot.

But in practice, most women staffers, posted as presiding officers at stations away from homes, return to their residences or park themselves at residences of friends or relatives at night than spend the poll-eve along with other officials, who they should be encountering the first in their career.

Says Kerala Gazetted Officers Association general secretary Reghulal T.S: “EC guidelines bar polling officers from accepting food and other hospitality from local politicians. But what would they do when no eatery is in the vicinity? And does EC provide break in between polling to let officials have a bite during the non-stop duty from 7:30 am to 5 pm on polling day?”

Another major drawback of the system is that it is impervious to genuine concerns of polling officials. There is no provision to post the officials at centres near their places of residence. But the demand is not for the same constituency as it entails conflict of interest. There is no mechanism to spare a spouse if both husband and wife are employed.

This is when the EC has introduced e-anumathi, e-pariharam and e-vahanam for online permissions and grievance redress. Mr Reghulal said the association had represented several times to the EC. This time, too, the Association would represent to the EC and hoped that the poll material collection would done by the officials at the polling centres than the presiding officer having to wait at the centralized collection centre till midnight to hand over the precious cargo.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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