20-month poll duty ordeal ends for Ghatkopar school staffers

Updated: Dec 11, 2016, 12:18 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Following our reports, staffers’ duty hours were first reduced; this month they were permanently relieved

Vishnu Sharma says he had to be at the election department office every day for a year. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
Vishnu Sharma says he had to be at the election department office every day for a year. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

December 6, 2016, was probably the happiest day in the lives of Narayan Subramaniam (54), a laboratory assistant, and Vishnu Sharma (42), a peon with the government-aided North Bombay Welfare Society’s High School in Ghatkopar (W). They were called to the election commission’s office at Vidyavihar and handed their relieving letters, thereby putting an end to their year-and-a-half-long poll duty ordeal, that had kept them away from their official work. When repeated requests by the school, asking for their staffers back fell on deaf ears, mid-day’s May 15, 2016 reportfinally did the trick.

Narayan Subramaniam, from North Bombay Welfare Society School at Ghatkopar (West), at the science laboratory at school
Narayan Subramaniam, from North Bombay Welfare Society School at Ghatkopar (West), at the science laboratory at school

The call
In May 2015, Subramaniam and Sharma had been summoned for election duty at the district election office. They thought it would be the usual twice-a-week routine that would not come in the way of their regular jobs. Instead, they found themselves being called to the election office everyday in the academic year (May 2015 till May 2016). Later, after mid-day’s report on the exploitation, they were put back on twice-a-week duty from June 2016 until December 6, 2016.

Best news
Subramaniam said when he was told about being be relieved of election duty, he wanted to jump for joy. “When I went to the Election Office, I was told that the election department would be relieving Sharma and my case soon. I was extremely excited, but I did not react, as nothing had come in writing.” He added, “On December 6, Vishnu and I were called to the election office and a reliving order was handed to us [copy with mid-day] stating that we had been relieved from election duty with immediate effect.”

The headmaster of the school, Ashok Kumar, said, “We are happy to have them back. With SSC prelim exams slated to begin shortly and with Narayan being the only lab attendant, it was near impossible for our already staff-crunched school to handle the pressure. Also, Narayan is an experienced hand, who not only assists teachers to conduct practical exams, but also does the inventory at the laboratory.”

Remuneration?
When asked if they had got any sort of honorarium for the work they did, Subramaniam said he had received `5,700 two months ago. “I presume this was for the one year (May 2015-May 2016). However, he was not aware if the money was for the entire year or just for a month.

The rules
A March 2015 circular stated that as per directives of the ECI, between March 1, 2015 and 31 July 2015, work on the National Electoral Rolls Purification and Authentication Programme would begin for which BLOs would be appointed from govt offices. This would be in addition to their regular duties.

Mandatory duty
“The People Representation Act of 1951 does not expect the election department to have its own field staff and, therefore, we have to depend on staff from other government institutions, and monitoring the work of these BLOs is just one of the issues. Overusing staff for electoral work... will be looked into,” said Nitin Gadre, Chief Electoral Officer of Maharashtra.

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