As Andhra Pradesh gears up for elections to urban local bodies in 10 days, State Election Commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar on Sunday issued directions to keep all ward volunteers away from the election process to maintain strict neutrality. District Collectors and election authorities have been asked not to assign the duty of distributing voter slips. Polling for 12 municipal corporations and 75 municipalities is set to take place on March 10, and counting of votes will happen on March 14.
SEC Ramesh Kumar, who has been interacting with officials and political party representatives from across the 13 districts in the state, said, â€śSerious complaints as in the case of Gram Panchayat elections were brought to the notice of the Commission during the consultative process with the political parties, concerning the ward volunteers.â€ť
The village and ward volunteer system was introduced by the Jagan Mohan Reddy government after coming to power in 2019, to ensure last-mile delivery of welfare schemes. These volunteers are responsible for identifying beneficiaries of welfare schemes and ensuring the delivery of services at the village or ward level.
Stating that the State Election Commission had previously issued instructions that village and ward volunteers must not indulge in political activities such as canvassing in local body elections, Ramesh Kumar noted that the elections to the Urban Local Bodies are qualitatively different from the gram panchayat elections, as the municipal polls are fought on party lines. â€śTherefore, strict neutrality governs all categories of government servants and the volunteers are no exception,â€ť Ramesh Kumar said in a statement to the media.
Ward volunteers have been instructed to not participate directly or indirectly in the election process. They are not allowed to â€śaid or abet in favour of any contesting candidate or political partyâ€ť, or â€śinfluence the outcome of elections by leveraging and misusing their reach to the public as a conduit of government benefits and schemes,â€ť the SEC said. District authorities have been asked to closely monitor the movement of ward volunteers, and to keep the volunteersâ€™ phones in safe custody as the database of beneficiaries of government schemes â€śis likely to be leveraged and misused.â€ť
Any form of participation by ward volunteers in the election process will be considered a serious violation of MCC (Model Code of Conduct), and any evidence of such participation will result in their â€śsummary discharge.â€ť Volunteers could also be charged with the criminal offence of indulging in corrupt practices under election laws, which could come in the way of their future engagement in service of the state, the SEC said.