THE ELECTION Commission (EC) has directed the Bihar government to withdraw its disciplinary proceedings against the state’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Ajay Nayak, over alleged negligence at the time of the Kosi floods in 2008. Nayak, who was principal secretary in the state’s water resources department in 2008, was issued a charge-memo or showcause notice by the Nitish Kumar-led government in November 2016, based on the report of a one-man judicial commission.
Suspecting political vendetta behind the disciplinary proceedings, the poll panel sent a letter to the state chief secretary on June 27, asking the government to withdraw the charge-memo since all CEOs, according to Section 13CC and 28A of the Representation of the People Act, are under the disciplinary control of the Commission. Hence, no action can be taken against them without the EC’s concurrence. It has further asked the state to furnish full facts of the case.
The one-man commission of Justice Rajesh Walia, a retired judge of the Patna High Court, submitted its inquiry report to the Bihar government in May 2014. It was constituted after the state witnessed one of the worst floods in five decades, when Kosi river breached its embankment in Nepal in August 2008.
The EC is also learnt to have contacted the union government — Department of Personnel and Training — over the Bihar government withholding Nayak’s promotion. Nayak, a 1984-batch IAS officer, was eligible to be promoted to chief secretary rank in February 2016, just three months after the Bihar assembly election results were declared. The promotion was denied on grounds of departmental proceedings. This was eventually followed with the charge-memo in November 2016.
“As CEOs, officers take a lot of steps to enforce the model code of conduct which may not go down too well with the political parties. The Bihar government’s move to withhold his promotion and then initiate disciplinary action in a seven-year-old case seems motivated,” said an EC source.
The EC’s letter to the Bihar Chief Secretary, however, does not hint at vendetta, but limits itself to pointing out that the state government violated rules by not consulting it.
Nayak declined to comment on the matter. “In recent times, some instances have come (to our notice), which have been a matter of concern for us…. The Commission is fully determined to protect the bona fide actions of our officers. Wherever arbitrary, unreasonable and unfair actions (by the state government) will be noticed, the Commission will come to the rescue of its officers,” Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi told The Indian Express.
Asked specifically about Nayak’s case, he added, “We should have been consulted before any action was initiated. We have written to the Bihar government (about this).”
Last December, the poll panel had written to the Manipur government asking it to withdraw its showcause notice to state CEO V K Dewangan over delay in clearing appointments in the election department. Suspecting favouritism by the Ibobi Singh government just ahead of state elections, the EC, on Dewangan’s advice, had put recruitment in the election department on hold till the poll process was completed. The state government withdrew its showcause notice after the EC’s direction.