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EC’s neutrality questioned over appointment of observers

By The Assam Tribune

Ajit Patowary

Questioning the perceived neutrality of the Election Commission of India (ECI), a power engineer has dashed off three letters to the Commission over the appointment of election observers, its decision to hold elections in the states in phases and the alleged leniency granted to the touring Prime Minister and Union Ministers in the election-bound states.

Hemanta Madhab Sarma, a former Chief Engineer of the Assam Power Distribution Company Ltd (APDCL), in one of his letters to the ECI alleged that the observers appointed by the Commission on February 26 for the Assembly elections in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are all retired government officers and their appointment violates the provisions of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951, which provides for appointment of only the serving government officers as election observers.

He demanded immediate revocation of this ECI order for the sake of justice.

In this letter, Sarma said that under the Section 20-B of Part-IV, the RP Act has made it clear enough that the observers appointed by the ECI have to be officers holding office, not retired ones. The EC cannot go against this provision without an amendment to this Section, he asserted.

Contending the ECI’s decision to hold the Assam and West Bengal elections in three and eight phases respectively, Sarma described this as a bid to help the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Citing the example of the Bihar Assembly elections held last year, Sarma said the Assembly elections in that state were held in three phases – first on October 28 for 71 seats, second on November 3 for 94 seats and the third on November 7 for 78 seats. Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed many rallies on October 28 and November 3, while the first and second phases of the Bihar polls were under way in other constituencies. The electronic media and social media relayed Modi’s lectures for the viewers and this influenced the voters of those constituencies where elections were going on. This flouted the provisions under Section 126 of the RP Act. But, the ECI remained totally silent on this matter and its election observers also turned a blind eye to it, alleged Sarma.

He questioned the professed impartiality of the ECI also in providing a level playing field to all political parties participating in the electoral process. For, he said, the model code of conduct (MCC) published by the Commission has been simply ignored while handling the issue of tours/visits of the Union ministers and other dignitaries to the election-bound states. In this respect, he cited the facilities provided to the touring Prime Minister and other Union ministers at the government’s cost.

To all these, the ECI has told Sarma: “This is to inform you that we have raised a complaint to the concerned officers through our NGS portal...” The Commission said it was forwarding the email to the concerned officer and requested Sarma to wait for a response.

On March 17, the ECI issued an enjoinment asking all media houses not to violate the provisions of Section 126 (1) (b) of the RP Act, but without specifying anything on the measures approved for the media in a phase-wise election-bound state.

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