THE MAJORITY of government officials who are expected to conduct assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh have failed in the written test conducted by the Election Commission of India (ECI). As many as 58 per cent officials of the rank of deputy collector, sub-divisional officer and tehsildar who will be posted as returning officers and assistant returning officers in each of the 230 assembly constituencies were made to take a written test last month.
Out of 1,000-odd officials who will be involved in the election process, 567 took the test but only 244 could get more than 70 per cent marks, the qualifying threshold. Chief Electoral Officer V L Kantha Rao told The Indian Express that the officials who failed in the first attempt will get a second chance to make the grade.
They will appear for the test along with officials who are still being trained in the election process. The 567 officers underwent a four-day training when they were taught the nuances of the polling process and given written material. Should they fail the next time, the CEO office will write to the government to take action against the officials for their poor performance. Such a written test is being conducted for the first time after the EC made it compulsory. The officials who clear the test are given certificates.
When asked about the possibility that some officials may have deliberately underperformed to escape poll duty because only those who clear the test will be deployed, the CEO said they could be penalised for failing the test. Government officials who were on poll duty in 2013 were given one month’s salary as an incentive. Some of the officials who took the test were on poll duty in the last assembly election and by-elections. A majority of officials have been exposed to VVPAT machines for the first time.
When Chief Election Commissioner O P Rawat held a meeting with senior government officials, he was reportedly upset with the lack of awareness about VVPAT, especially when a young collector could not explain how a VVPAT functioned. RTI activist Ajay Dubey said the poor performance by government officials was a serious development.
“How can they be trusted to conduct free and fair polls if they are not aware about the nitty-gritty of the electoral process,” he said demanding that the EC make public the test papers “because transparency is must in a democracy”. The activist said the EC has no power to penalise officials who fared poorly, deliberately or due to lack of knowledge in the first attempt or even if they don’t do well in their next attempt.
The opposition Congress said officials who failed the test included those belonging to IAS and state administrative services. “If they could not answer simple questions how they are running the government. They have no right to remain in government service,” said Congress leader Narendra Saluja.