With the clock ticking on her, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday backed down from her confrontation with the Election Commission and agreed to transfer five SPs and a district magistrate as directed by the poll panel.
If her attack on EC on Monday was unprecedented, her climbdown — barely 24 hours later — was surprisingly uncharacteristic and came after the panel rejected the state government’s plea to revisit its decision on the transfer and gave a deadline of 1oam for Wednesday to comply with its orders.
Opinion from some legal experts that there was no way Mamata would win this battle against EC is said to have made her finally reverse her stand. The CM called a press conference in Durgapur around 8.20pm on Tuesday to announce that she would agree to the transfers but not the replacements decided by the poll panel.
Chief secretary Sanjoy Mitra had earlier written to the Commission seeking clarifications on some technical issues and requesting the poll panel to reconsider the orders. The panel answered the technical queries, but told the state government that there was no scope for revisiting the orders. If the state government fails to do so, the Commission had the option of deferring the polls in the constituencies from where it had ordered the officers to be shifted out.
The officials whose transfer was ordered by the EC included superintendents of police (SPs) in West Midnapore, Bardhman, Birbhum, Malda and North 24 Parganas districts and the district magistrate of North 24 Parganas.
The first hint of a climbdown was in the chief secretary’s reply to the EC, which had four questions but did not mention the CM’s blunt refusal to comply with the orders. Mitra wanted to know from EC why the state government was not consulted, who would take responsibility for any law and order problem, why Bharati Ghosh was removed despite her experience in tackling Maoists and how was Rupesh Kumar made SP, superseding nine officer senior to him? He also sought clarification on what exactly was the partisan attitude of the SPs, ordered to be transferred.
Mamata found two face-savers- that the officers would return to their posts after the election and that she would continue to demand answers to why the state was not consulted. “These are very senior officers whose competence, integrity and efficiency are without question. Even EC has said so. But they chose to take action on untrue and unproven allegations. For the time being, I will give these officers the highest respect and keep them with me, either in CMO or police directorate,” Mamata said.
EC sources said there is no rule or law mandating consultation with the state government on transfer of poll-related officers. “Though we ask the state government for a panel of officers to replace a DGP, it is only because the state is familiar with the seniority and eligibility of officers for that post. In case of SPs, this limitation is not there,” an EC official pointed out.