Not all’s well in Himachal panchayat elections


By: Pinki Ramaul

The Panchayat elections in Himachal Pradesh have turned the raging severe winter into the festivity of inclusive democracy. All the people across generations, caste and gender are braving the extremely low temperatures and actively participating in the grassroots democratic process. Significantly empowered by the Right to Information Act and higher literacy and educational attainment, the people of Himachal Pradesh are expected to make well-informed and judicious choice in these elections.

The increasing powers of Gram Panchayats and urban local bodies are

Voting at gram panchyat Nagchala in Mandi district in foggy conditions. Photo Mahesh Chander Sharma

attracting young bright talent into the often hated world of politics. However, the Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad have not been delegated the necessary powers due to the unholy nexus of corrupt bureaucrats and higher-level power-hungry politicians. This is reflected in less interest of the public in the elections for the post of Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad members. There is need for delegation of more powers to these bodies.

Although one understands the huge magnitude of the political exercise and the manpower and logistics involved in managing these elections, these elections are very badly managed in some parts of the state. The Block Development Officer has been delegated major responsibility in these elections and he has been designated as the Returning Officer for Gram Panchayat Elections. Officers of various departments, even much senior to the BDO, are working as the Assistant Returning Officers without raising any issue in the interest of democracy. Moreover, the BDO also has under his regular command a number of Panchayat Secretaries, Panchayat Sahayaks, Gram Rojgar Sewak, and Technical Assistants, etc. But it has been observed that on several occasions BDO hesitates to take decisions and doubts the abilities and potential of his subordinate staff. BDO unnecessarily seeks help from the SDM and Tehsildar and their staff. It is depressing when one reads the news that a Tehsildar had to intervene to make seating arrangements for election rehearsal. This denigrates the status and prestige of the office of the BDO. They seem to lack confidence which is a must for successful management.

Since the education department constitutes approximately 50 per cent of the government employees, around half of the staff on election duty will undoubtedly be from this department. But unfortunately more than 80 per cent of the staff on election duty is from this department. Since most of the students in government schools are poor, authorities show no concern even if teaching in these schools suffers badly. There is another question as to why not even some of the employees of the DC/SDM/BDO/Tehsil offices are sent to field for election duties. It is this subordinate staff whose complacency leads to mismanagement and instances like failure to make the provision of emergency lights during the counting of votes in the Panchayat Samiti/Zila Parishad elections at a counting centre in Sirmaur district during 2005 elections. This case was highlighted in the media at that time and also taken to the court.

While assigning election duties, seniority and status of the officials has frequently been ignored by the authorities concerned and often senior officers are made to work under juniors, which is against all administrative principles. If some officers point out the irregularities, the authorities concerned unnecessarily threaten them with disciplinary proceedings. This is gross misuse of powers given for the purpose of smooth conduct of elections. The mismanagement is also reflected in the appointment of polling staff in their home Panchayats which is against the principle of free and fair elections.

In the present era of EVMs and latest printing technology, it is surprising that Panchayat Elections even today are using ballot papers in which the names of candidates are written by hand by engaging a large number of teachers and other staff. The Assistant Returning Officers are given the task of tearing the large ballot papers as per the number of candidates in their constituency. There is a lot of wastage of paper, estimated to be around 60 to 70 per cent. This is disgusting in the present era of environmental conservation and awareness, when the government and the private sector are all moving towards paperless working. If one calculates the salaries of the employees engaged in writing ballot papers, it reflects not only bad economics but also poor human resource management.

One is surprised to see the ballot paper for Pradhan in which instead of a single list, two lists are printed side by side. This seems to be technically wrong and was certainly avoidable. There are apprehensions that wrong folding of this ballot paper may lead to high ratio of rejected votes and ultimate unnecessary litigation.

Moreover, the State Election Commission cannot turn a blind eye to the huge consumption of liquor during election campaigns. The limits on election expenses are openly violated, with the estimates of election expenses going into lakhs per candidate. In some urban areas, the poster and stickers war is so intense that there is hardly any house or boundary wall or even gate on which posters have not been pasted. Still the election officials have not taken any notice of it. Who will bear the cost of restoration?

(The writer is principal, Trivenee School of Excellence, Paonta Sahib, HP)

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  1. We are still so much behind the technology.I mean look at the infrastructure used to run the panchayat election..ballet paper..!!!Why not use technology when it is available and proven…!!!Another question which ponder my mind is..Is there really any scope for a young energetic,innovative person to start his carrer from panchayat election…May be yes..perhaps not..!!!I dont know whether any HP politician ever visit this site..but if any I think he should work to remove this dilemma from the youth for a better Himachal..!!!

  2. @ Pinki- You have raised lot of issues, which i deem right to be discussed and highlighted, given the sorry state of election at any level from grassroots onwards to state legislative  to parliamentary election. Time and again most of us have come across the thought of corrupt and unethical practices in the elections, exercised under the constitution of India. But very little has been assured with accountability and transparency, which was hoped for after highlighting these issues. The previous year, which some sections of media are connoting as the ‘year of scams’ was culmination of the tolerance practiced by the common to the unethical and unconstitutional practices happening for decades now. There is a need of reform in liberal democratic practices to check all that is unwanted.

  3. I  agree with the topic.Not even this, the highly mismanagement  of  HP Government is reflected when you find that the  the local teachers of Jhamerh and Aali village were High  School (Ali -Pabo, High School) in  Chauntra Block,Joginder Nagar is being deployed by the joining hands with the local authorities in the JHAMERH POLLING BOOTH ONLY,AND WHEN THE LETTER WAS WRITTEN  to DC, Mandi ,no reply was sent by his good office.
    It is worth to mention that  Primary teacher Mr. Rewat Ram who hails from Aali  village was deployed in Jhamerh Polling Booth.
    And  also the plot which was laid by the ex-pradhan shri Jaidev Sharma(ex employee of HPPWD, department, who was terminated on the corruption charges) was  very clear when it was found that- has deliberately cut off the names of the voters, in the voters list, those  whom he thought  will not vote for him.
    The same cause was also written to DC Mandi but no reply  was found from  the DC Mandi.
    Anyway there are plenty issues to write but of no use to mention as nothing is going to there.
    After all we are in India.

  4. Dear Amit,

    I agree with you, due to the political system which is at worst in Himachal all the goondas are flourishing at the height day by day.

    At the Tehsil level Tehilsar/SDM/Local police /IPH Dept/electricity is functioning like puppets in the hands of political leaders of present gov.

    I fairly remember about the  Jaidev Sharma  one of the  most corrupt PWD employee and his  DUS NUMBERI sons  in the   AREA mentioned in your topic, namely VINOD KUMAR AND PAWAN KUMAR, drug smugglers and criminals. But surprised that despite dozens of cases on their head in the Joginder Nagar Police Station they are blessed by the Surinder Pal the ex-MLA.

    Shame on such system .How one can trust these people.

    And this time after /Dec-12 election this gentle man has made record of transferring the poor employees all over the Himachal, Thank god it does not cover Siachen Glacier,otherwise they wont think for a second to transfer them to that place too. My uncle too is transferred to PANGI  after Vidhansabha election 2012.
    Thanks to politicians.

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