Kannur Collector – CPI(M) Pawn removed

published on October 23, 2009

By-poll: EC replaces Kannur collector

Pioneer News Service | Thiruvananthapuram / New Delhi

The Central Election Commission on Friday night removed VK Balakrishnan as District Collector of Kannur, Kerala following widespread complaints against him of acting as a pawn of the CPI(M) in the process for the by-poll to be held in the Kannur Assembly constituency on November 7. The commission gave PB Saleem, Kozhikode District Collector, the additional charge of Kannur district.

The CEC took the decision to appoint Saleem in the place of Balakrishnan on the basis of a report submitted by Kerala Chief Election Officer Nalini Netto on his lapses in discharging his duties related to the by-election. Saleem was selected from a panel of three names given by Kerala Chief Secretary Neela Gangadharan. The Congress had been demanding the removal of Balakrishnan for the past several days, alleging that he was acting against the Opposition on the orders of the ruling CPI(M).

Netto had reported to the CEC that Balakrishnan had failed in ensuring complaint-free preparation of voters’ list, which, according to the Congress, had been prepared as per the wishes of the CPI(M). The new voters’ list in Kannur had as many as 9,357 names and 6,380 names had been removed from it. The Congress had said that Balakrishnan as district collector had helped the CPI(M) in entering and deleting names in the list for rigging the by-poll.

The Chief Election Officer also reported that Balakrishnan, who had asked the Superintendent of Police in Kannur to register a case against Congress MP K Sudhakaran, had failed to inform the commission prior to taking action. The issue of the police registering a case against Sudhakaran under non-bailable charges had kicked off a huge controversy.

The appointment of Saleem in temporary charge of Kannur District Collector came at the end of a full day of tension between the Election Commission and the LDF Government, which saw the commission’s directive to change the collector as politically motivated and as an infringement on its powers. The fury of the Kerala Government was further escalated by the EC’s informal instruction to consider the names of former Kannur collector Dinesh Arora and Kasaragod collector Anand Singh.

The Government then decided not to honour this instruction, saying the commission did not have the authority to issue such orders. Following this, Chief Secretary Neela Gangadharan sent to the CEC a list of three names – Sanjay Kaul, District Collector, Thiruvananthapuram, PB Saleem, District Collector, Kozhikode and Ishita Rai, Secretary, Department of Finance and former district collector, Kannur – on the suggestion of Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan.

The CPI(M) fumed at the directive from the Election Commission and the Chief Minister termed the instruction of the commission to replace the collector as an unheard-of incident. The Congress, which had raised serious complaints against Balakrishnan, said a mere replacement of the district collector was not sufficient to ensure free and fair by-election in Kannur. Balakrishnan, who remained evasive without attending office till late evening, refused to react to the EC directive.

Though the LDF Government chose to go for an open confrontation with the Election Commission by refusing to include the names of two IAS officials the EC suggested, Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla did not refer to this when he talked about it to newsmen in New Delhi on Friday evening.

“Yes, we have got the panel. We are in the process of selecting the new district collector,” he said. He also said that two election observers were being sent to Kannur in the context of the mounting complaints. One of these two observers had already reached Kannur and the other would reach there on Saturday.

He added that nothing could now be done in the case of the (allegedly rigged) voters’ list for Kannur, which was finalized and published on Wednesday evening. He said the matter of deploying additional paramilitary personnel for the November 7 by-poll would be decided as per the reports from the election observers. Two other Assembly constituencies – Ernakulam and Alappuzha – also would have by-election on that day,

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