The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Telltale signs for poll policeman

Patna, Dec. 22: The last time Election Commission consultant K.J. Rao visited Bihar, polls to the Chhapra parliamentary seat ' where Laloo Prasad Yadav was a candidate ' were countermanded. Today, his trip to the state could again spell trouble for the Rashtriya Janata Dal and some senior state officers.

Rao, who was here to report on the alleged violation of the model code of conduct and misuse of official machinery for the RJD's December 23 rally, now postponed, undertook a five-hour whirlwind tour of the capital. He also sprang a surprise when he visited Hajipur across the Ganga.

'I will submit the report on December 24,' he said. On the same day, the RJD would be replying to a showcause notice issued by the poll panel. The notice, which accused Laloo Prasad of trying to bribe voters after he distributed cash to people at a recent public meeting, threatened to de-recognise his RJD. It led to tomorrow's mega rally being put off.

The big trouble for the RJD today came as Patna district magistrate Gautam Goswami admitted before Rao that most of the hoardings for the rally had been put up in violation of the law. The organisers were to pay a nominal tax for every hoarding at public places but this fee was not paid, although hundreds of billboards and welcome arches were put up.

The poll panel consultant has sought details from the district magistrate, including a copy of the Bihar Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1985. Cases are being registered against those ' mostly RJD leaders ' who had 'sponsored' the billboards.

The district administration and the RJD started a massive exercise to erase all indications of the city being turned green ' the RJD's colour ' for the rally after it became public that a poll panel observer was coming to Patna. They succeeded to a large extent, but Rao today stopped unannounced at odd places.

He entered Kotwali police station, whose walls had been defaced by RJD workers, and asked an official why an FIR had not been lodged. The policeman said he was 'new' in his post.

At the state transport bus terminus near Gandhi Maidan, Rao asked if the authorities were paid the fees for putting up the billboards. The response was again in the negative.

Rao's trip to Hajipur caught the authorities and the RJD unawares as they had not removed hundreds of rally hoardings lined up on the way. The poll panel official got the entire violation recorded on video.

At the railway station, hoardings had been put up even above the ticket counter. Rao made queries from the stationmaster, who could not say much in his defence.

Rao also came across rally messages written on trains that were to go to Patna carrying RJD supporters. He has sought a special report on this. 'Nobody reported this,' he said.

'I am a little surprised. I have seen all aspects that I was supposed to,' he added.

The observer visited the offices of the commercial taxes department in the capital where officials told him that the fees for the hoardings had not been paid. He also visited Gandhi Maidan, the rally venue, where a massive 'cleaning-up' exercise is on.

No politician met Rao in Patna.

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