A teacher was arrested while she was teaching a class full of students and the local police were stopped from arresting two others by the local MLA in Gandevi taluka of Gujarat’s Navsari district on Monday after the mamlatdar (chief officer of the taluka) issued a warrant for the trio’s arrest for missing electoral roll revision work assigned to them.
The roll revision drive is taken up by the Election Commission of India for next year’s General Election, and Gandevi taluka’s mamlatdar S D Chaudhary asked the police on Monday to pick up the three teachers and present them at his office on Tuesday.
Government school teachers have been appointed booth-level officers (BLOs) in the electoral roll revision drive, and Navsari district administration had asked all BLOs on Sunday to verify and correct them. Three BLOs — all teachers at village primary schools — had failed to turn up when the exercise was carried out in Gandevi on Monday: Manisha Raman Patel of Undach village primary school, Nidhi Bharat Patel (Antaliya), and Geeta Arun Patel (Gadat).
Calling it a “humiliation by the mamlatdar”, Geeta Patel, 50, said, “I am teaching for the last 20 years at Undach village. I was given election work at Salej village, which is far. I had earlier requested the mamlatdar to give election-related work in Undach. We are not against work but one should think before assigning such responsibility. We are upset that they sent a police team to our workplace to arrest us.”
On Tuesday, Gujarat chief electoral officer S Murali Krishna said, “The officials are not supposed to take such action. There were no directions from this office (Chief Election Office), neither was this office informed about this (arrest warrant). I have instructed the district officers concerned to ensure such incidents are not repeated.”
Defending his action, mamlatdar S D Chaudhary said, “We have appointed 219 BLOs to carry out election-related activities and they had to remain present in school on Sunday. More than 90 percent of these BLOs are teachers. These three teachers failed in doing their duty, so we issued arrest warrants and instructed police to take action.”
The police, he said, “brought them and they gave us in writing that they will do election-related work” in future.
Gujarat has 51,000 BLOs.
Nidhi Patel, 32, was arrested while she was teaching students of class VII, leaving the children shell-shocked, according to those present. The police told the school principal that they had an arrest warrant from the mamlatdar and were acting on his orders. Nidhi was taken to the mamlatdar office, where she had to give written assurance that she will finish her election-related work before October 15 before she was allowed to go home.
The two other teachers – Manisha Patel, 45, and Geeta Patel, 50, were at a science fair in Vadsarang village of the district. When the police reached there to arrest them, two BJP MLAs present at the venue – Naresh Patel (of Gandevi constituency) and Piyush Patel (Navsari) stopped them from arresting the duo. They told the police team that the teachers would go to the mamlatdar office on Monday evening, once the science fair wound up.
Both went to the mamlatdar office in the evening and gave a written undertaking that they would do all election-related work assigned to them.
Navsari District Teachers’ Association president Dilip Patel, who reached the office to support the teachers, said, “Arrest warrants are not proper; they create a poor impression of teachers on students’ minds…. Why are only teachers selected for election and other work? There are other officials in different government department who can do the same work.”
Calling it a situation of “pressure created by the mamlatdar” that forced the police to act “immediately”, Navsari’s Deputy Superintendent of Police S G Rana said, “Our staff were given the arrest warrant by the mamlatdar and they acted on it. The police did their duty; they have not done anything illegal. (But) I think the police team should have waited until the school hours got over before arresting teacher Nidhi Patel.”
Naresh Patel, MLA from Gandevi and Navsari district BJP president, said, “I stopped the police from taking action against Geeta Patel – she was busy with students, showing the science project. I spoke with the mamlatdar and the (district) collector. The police action is not good – they came to arrest a teacher in the presence of students and other dignitaries.” Section 32 of The Representation of The People Act, 1950 states: “No court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under sub-section (1) unless there is a complaint made by order of, or under authority from, the Election Commission or the Chief Electoral Officer of the State concerned.”
(With inputs from Ritu Sharma in Ahmedabad)