Himansu Shekhar Rout

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has pulled up its socks ahead of the 2024 elections by issuing a directive to Odisha and a few other states and UTS to transfer the officers who have been serving at a place/ home district for a 'considerably longer period'. 

In a letter to the Chief Secretaries and the chief electoral officers of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim, the ECI made it clear that the officers who have stayed at a place or home district over three years will be shifted from there. If their term of posting at one place completes three years before June 30, 2024, they will be shifted. 

Long list in Odisha

After the ECI directive came, it was learned that the list of the officers starting from the SP to Collectors posted for a long time at one place is a long one in Odisha. The opposition parties have raised questions over these officers serving for years together at one place whereas they should have been shifted elsewhere at regular intervals.    

The prominent among these officers is 2012-batch IAS officer Vineet Bharadwaj, who has been posted as the Collector of Mayurbhanj since April 2018. He has been linked to several controversies on the Covid mismanagement, Green Tribunal notice for illegal sand smuggling, and the High Court’s ire on the Similipal protection. Besides, he drew flak from various quarters for wearing a T-shirt with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s logo.  

The other IAS officers who have served for several years at one place without being shifted are Keonjhar Collector Ashish Thakare (for six years), Bolangir Collector Chanchal Rana (over three years) Kendrpara Collector Amrit Ruturaj and SP Modkar Sandeep Sampad, Puri Collector Balwant Singh and Jajpur SP Chakaborty Singh Rathore.  

'Not sign of healthy democracy'

The state government has drawn severe flak from opposition parties for keeping such top officers in one place for years. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress have accused the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of making use of these officers to grab the vote bank in the concerned districts. 

Taking a dig at the state government, BJP leader Ramaranjan Baliarsingh observed, "The government does not shift those officers for a long period who are in favour of the government and can manipulate the electoral process. This is not a sign of a healthy democracy. Free and fair elections can’t be possible if such officers are made use of in election management.”

Former Odisha Congress chief, Jayadev Jena also lambasted the state government, alleging that the officers who owe allegiance to the government get the chance of staying at one place for a longer period. “It is against the tenets of democracy. As they are in the government, they call the shots. This was pointed out by the ECI ahead of the elections,” Jena added.

However, the ruling BJD has countered the allegations. BJD leader Prasanta Muduli said, “The ECI has written a letter regarding the transfer and posting of the officers. The government will complete the process in time.”  

Former chief secretary, Sahadev Sahu said that this is the preliminary exercise which began well ahead of the elections. “The officers who can influence voters in favour of the government will be shifted,” he said.

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