Thursday, March 26, 2009

NAXAL FEAR :Retired govt officials shun election duty

AMIT GUPTA

Gearing up: Poll workers check EVMs in Bokaro on Thursday. Picture by Pankaj Singh
Ranchi, March 26: An appeal to retired government employees to render their services during the Lok Sabha elections has evoked a lukewarm response much to the discomfort of district administrations struggling hard to arrange for an adequate number of polling personnel.

Following a directive from the Election Commission (EC), the authorities of Ranchi, Garhwa, Palamau, Lohardaga and Gumla districts put up advertisements. “There was hardly any response. We had set a March 24 deadline, but now we have decided to wait for some more time,” said Gumla deputy commissioner Rahul Sharma.

Approximately, 1.25 lakh officials are required for smooth polling in all the 24 districts of the state. Currently, the number is falling short by 15,000.

District officials said that retired government employees were supposed to be deployed as micro-observers in sensitive booths. Their job will be to assist observers, normally an IAS officer appointed by the EC. A single booth requires a presiding officer, at least three polling officials and a micro-observer.

While the problem of inadequate polling personnel is acute in small districts like Gumla, districts like Ranchi are in a tad better position. “We have received responses from a couple of retired government employees. We are going to ask banks and semi-government set-ups to provide us with personnel,” said Arvind Kumar Mishra, the district establishment deputy collector.

Mishra pointed out that this was the first time micro-observers were being deputed. “Besides, the number of polling stations have also increased significantly. So, it is natural that more number of personnel will be required,” he added.

Speaking about alienating themselves from the biggest festival of democracy, a senior government official said: “It is not mandatory for the retired employees to render their services in elections. But as far as serving government employees (for whom poll duty is mandatory) are concerned, many are not keen on the job. And the reasons are obvious — past incidents of violence and fear of Naxalites,” he said.

Although the last date to respond for retired government employees has expired in four districts, it is March 28 for Lohardaga. But the districts made it clear that the employees can still opt for poll duty.

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