People of Athgarh Apprised Indian EC of How A Returning Officer Can Damage Democracy

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The only duty of the Election Commission (EC) of India is to conduct the elections to the Parliament and Assemblies. To discharge this duty perfectly, the EC has been vested with the powers of “superintendence, direction and control of elections” under Article 324 of the constitution of India. But it is enjoying these powers while neglecting its duty. This is why election cases are so remnant.

Athgarh in the district of Cuttack (Orissa Assembly Constituency No.89) offers enough materials to study this syndrome. There are several postings in these pages on how it is a victim of the EC’s negligence to duty. But the EC has not yet thought it prudent to react to the points raised therein, though democracy requires its reaction.

A mere Returning Officer (RO) at the base level, who by virtue of being the sub-collector of Athgarh sub-division was made the RO, obliged the political rivals of the sitting MLA of that constituency by intentionally rejecting his nomination papers on false and fabricated grounds on the day of screening and then issued to EC a list of valid candidates excluding the name of that candidate.

On the table of screening, the RO declared that the nomination papers submitted by the sitting MLA Ranendra Pratap Swain did not have the support of a valid party ticket as the same was a xerox copy, not signed in ink. This was contrary to actuals, as the same RO had received the original party ticket signed in ink personally on the day of submission of the nomination papers and had kept the same under his custody beyond reach of any other person. The RO had issued receipt thereof and declared an unambiguous check list. Despite this, he had the audacity to say that the party ticked submitted by the candidate was not the original, but a xeroxed one. Who but the RO could have made a xerox copy of the party ticket when that was in his custody?

Clearly, the RO sabotaged democracy at Athgarh.

Swain had moved the EC to intervene immediately so that the wrong perpetrated by the RO could be removed and he could contest the election. But, the EC refused to step in. Orissa High Court, as mentioned in the older posting, has nullified the election and declared that “a casual vacancy is created relating to 89-Athgarh Assembly constituency thereby”.

People of Athgarh, in a memorandum to the Chief Election Commissioner during his visit to Bhubaneswar to inaugurate the EC’s eastern zonal symposium on “sharing best electoral practice”, have brought this matter to his notice and demanded that to save democracy from further misuse of ROs in future, “There should be at least one layer of appeal in the EC mechanism to give justice to a victimized candidate so that killing of democracy as has happened in Athgarh constituency by the RO shall not happen elsewhere any more”.

The memorandum signed by Satyaprakash Rath and others was handed over to CEC on January 11. In another memorandum signed by Sidhartha kumar Das and others, the CEC has been moved to unseat the elected MLA of Athgarh, Ramesh Raut on evident allegation of false affidavit during filing of nomination papers.

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