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EC push to act, not forward

Calcutta, March 30: The Election Commission has written to the Bengal chief electoral officer expressing “dismay” at how his office had been forwarding complaints to Delhi instead of acting on them independently.

The letter to Sunil Kumar Gupta, sent on March 25, reminded the state electoral officer that he should use the powers assigned to him to act promptly on complaints related to the violation of the model code of conduct unless there was a doubt in any particular case.

“The commission has been receiving a large number of references on model code which are merely forwarded to the commission without proper vetting at the level of chief electoral officer,” the letter says.

Although copies of the letter have been sent to electoral officers of other states, sources said the missive to Gupta was more relevant as his office was found to have forwarded the most number of complaints to Delhi.

The letter adds: “The commission has expressed its dismay with this state of affairs and has directed that all model code of conduct references received by chief electoral officers should be preferably disposed of after due examination at their level.”

Asked about the letter, Gupta declined comment. Sources said he was likely to visit the commission office in Delhi in the next few days and explain his position.

According to commission sources, deputy election commissioner Vinod Zutshi had during his administrative meeting in Calcutta last Tuesday instructed Gupta to not look to Delhi for every complaint that was lodged with his office.

The sources said the Left Front had told Zutshi that Gupta and his office were sitting on complaints related to violations of the model code of conduct and showing bias towards the ruling establishment.

Prodded by Zutshi and the commission through the letter, the state electoral officer’s office and district administrations have started acting on the complaints.

The Birbhum administration has served two show-cause notices on district Trinamul chief Anubrata Mondal for provocative speeches. It has also served a similar notice on CPM leader Anisur Rahaman for his disparaging remarks targeting the chief minister at a party rally in the district.

Similar steps have been taken by other district administrations, the sources said, adding that Gupta’s office has acted on about 100 of the 180-odd complaints it has received.

“Those that remain to be acted upon involve the ruling party or big-ticket leaders like the chief minister. Before the missive, Gupta’s office was trying its best to steer clear of controversy by forwarding everything to the commission. That has stopped now,” a district official on deputation to the commission said.