A group of 42 polling officials in Devikulam and Udumbanchola constituencies in Kerala’s Idukki district has filed a complaint against a central election expenditure official, alleging that the official ill-treated them, including making them polish his shoes, humiliating them and assigning them menial tasks. “We are extremely compelled and forced to file this petition owing to the merciless, crude and inappropriate behaviour of the Expenditure Observer towards us,” said the officials, alleging that they have been facing extreme mental torture from Naresh Kumar Bansal, the election expenditure official of Devikulam and Udumbanchola constituencies. They submitted the petition to the Chief Election Officer, Idukki district Collector H Dineshan and the Returning Officers of the two constituencies.
In the complaint, the polling officials alleged that Bansal threatens his subordinate officials and relegates them to perform menial tasks. “The Expenditure Observer often treats the election officials like his orderlies. There are several incidents where he ordered officials to get his shoes polished, buy him his personal effects etc. He even demanded a highly-ranked official in Devikulam RDO office to buy a gel pen for him in the middle of a meeting," they alleged, adding, “Any reluctance shown by officers to obey his orders results in severe harassment and threats.”
The complaint further stated that the Expenditure Observer once forcefully seized a vehicle allotted for the video surveillance team and used it for a leisure trip to Madurai. "Last Saturday, the Expenditure Observer forcefully captured the vehicle allotted to one of the video surveillance teams and went to Madurai in Tamil Nadu (leaving the constituency) in that vehicle along with his family. So, the video surveillance team had to walk that day to complete the duty assigned to them, which was not a matter of concern for the Expenditure Observer," said the complaint, which TNM has accessed.
Alleging that the official favours a particular political party, the polling officials said, "He speaks ill of other political parties, including the present ruling and opposition parties of the state as well as the government of the state. This has caused serious discomfort among the officers to do the entrusted job in an impartial manner," alleged the officials, who have been deployed to assist Bansal.
The polling officials alleged that the Expenditure Observer has not paid for the expensive items, including spices, which the officials were forced to buy for him. "Since the beginning of the duty, the Expenditure Observer has been adamant in getting favours done for him and his family at our expense. We were forced to buy him things, from costly spices to tender coconut, out of our pockets. We feel ashamed to say that the Expenditure Observer hasn't paid, even once, for the food for him or his family, till this day," they alleged in the letter.
The Expenditure Observer also allegedly ill-treated the polling officials for his discomfort at the guest house accommodation. The accommodation for the Expenditure Observer was arranged at the government guest house, Munnar. The official, however, allegedly demanded luxury lodging in Tea County, a four-star hotel in Munnar. “Obviously, there was a delay in the administrative level in meeting this demand. This delay resulted in severe harassment of all the officials deployed under him," said the complaint.
In the complaint, the officials further alleged that the Observer refused to guide them or intervene when they requested him to, and instead ordered them to contact the Returning Officer. “Besides this kind of indifference, the Observer, at every possible opportunity, threatens the officials about drafting a letter to the DEO (District Election Officer) and getting us suspended,” they alleged.
‘Incompetent’, ‘senseless’ and ‘useless’ are some of the terms the Observer has been allegedly using to address the election officials. “Once a higher official leading a surveillance team was almost manhandled by the Observer,” the complaint read.
"The most unbearable part is that the Observer keeps insulting the language and culture of Kerala. He is pleased to speak his mother tongue whenever or to whomever he likes. But if the polling officials happen to speak or produce a document in their mother tongue (not all the officials are well versed in English and Hindi), which is also our official language, the Observer gets agitated and starts cursing, shouting and harassing," said the complaint.
“All these have created a sense of insecurity and irritation among the officials. It is heavily demoralising and has started affecting the physical and mental integrity of the officers," said the officials, who have demanded urgent and appropriate action in the matter.
Meanwhile, the higher-level polling officials are trying to solve the issue amicably before the election. "The polling officials, however, are not willing to withdraw the complaint and have demanded immediate action against the Expenditure Observer," a source at the Revenue Department told TNM, who also alleged that the polling officials, too, tried to manhandle the Observer for his merciless and rude behaviour.