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Showcause rush to beat poll panel clock

‘Action’ flurry without complaint checking

Calcutta, April 5: The Bengal chief electoral officer’s office has in the past four days allegedly got the authorities in the districts to issue showcause notices to those accused of violating the model code without verification of the complaints.

Some district magistrates said the move was a “last-ditch” and “desperate” attempt to address as many complaints as possible before the visit by the Election Commission’s full bench that began this evening.

In the past four days, the CEO’s office, which has been accused of inaction and bias in favour of the ruling party, has “acted on” 76 complaints. Sources said that in most of the cases, showcause notices had been issued without verifying the complaints.

Between March 5, when the model code for the Lok Sabha elections came into effect, and April 1, a total of 92 complaints were addressed.

The sources said the CEO’s office had told the authorities in the districts to serve showcause notices on those against whom complaints had been lodged “without wasting time on verification”.

“We have been told not to go into the details of the complaints but to issue showcause notices immediately after receiving them,” a district magistrate said today.

The sources said showcause notices “do not amount to much”.

“Even if the Election Commission is dissatisfied with the recipient’s response, it does not usually issue more than an official ‘expression of displeasure’,” a source said.

According to the standard operating procedure, the district authorities receive a complaint and forward it to the CEO’s office, which looks into it and orders the district to conduct a probe.

The probe report is submitted to the CEO’s office, which forwards it to the poll panel headquarters in Delhi, if necessary. If a complaint is deemed to have merit, a showcause notice is issued and an FIR lodged by the district administration, according to the standard procedure.

Officials in the districts said that had the CEO’s office been serious about acting on the complaints, “it would have asked the authorities in the districts to start an inquiry and lodge FIRs in cases that have merit”.

“Issuing such notices is the easy option. No action has been taken so far based on the replies to them, such as in the cases of (Trinamul’s) Anubrata Mondal, (the CPM’s) Anisur Rahaman and (BJP candidate) P.C. Sorcar,” a district official said.

While Mondal has been accused of making provocative speeches, Rahaman and Sorcar have allegedly made unsavoury remarks against the chief minister.

A district magistrate said: “I had to showcause a political leader after a complaint was lodged that he held a campaign meeting on a college campus. There was no evidence to substantiate the claim and I have found out that the complaint was baseless. But I had to issue the notice anyway.”

The commission’s full-bench of chief election commissioner V.S. Sampath, election commissioners Nasim Zaidi and H.S. Brahma and deputy election commissioner Vinod Zutshi arrived in Calcutta this evening. During a visit on March 25, Zutshi had expressed his displeasure at the number of pending complaints and had told the CEO’s office to take action.

This evening, the full bench held a meeting with officials from Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar, where polls will be held in the first phase on April 17. The sources said the allegations against CEO Sunil Kumar Gupta and some district magistrates and police superintendents could be discussed in meetings tomorrow.

According to sources, the meeting discussed a plan to deploy 120 companies of central forces in the three districts.

OFFICIALS UNDER EC SCANNER

The Election Commission’s full bench, which arrived in Calcutta on Saturday evening on a two-day visit, may on Sunday deal with Opposition complaints of bias and inaction against the Bengal chief election commissioner and some district magistrates (DMs) and superintendents of police (SPs).

Chief election commissioner V.S. Sampath, election commissioners Nasim Zaidi and H.S. Brahma and deputy election commissioner Vinod Zutshi will hear these complaints.

The Telegraph takes a closer look at the nature of the complaints against the officials

Sunil Kumar Gupta
chief electoral officer

Gupta’s office has been accused of sitting on complaints of model code violations between March 5, when the Lok Sabha poll code came into effect, and March 25. The CEO’s office has forwarded many of the complaints, most of them against the Trinamul Congress, to the EC headquarters in Delhi despite having the power to initiate action.
After a warning from Zutshi on March 25 and a letter from the panel where it expressed its “dismay” at how the Bengal CEO’s office was merely forwarding complaints, Gupta and his team initiated action on some.

The CEO’s office has also been criticised for not acting on allegations of political
bullying of election officials in North 24-Parganas and Howrah.

The Left Front has lodged a formal complaint against Gupta with Nirvachan Sadan.

Reaction on Saturday: Phone kept ringing

Bharati Ghosh
West Midnapore SP

The Opposition has drawn attention to Ghosh’s alleged proximity to the ruling establishment. The Left Front had alleged that Ghosh had held a meeting with Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP Mukul Roy at the Midnapore circuit house after the model code kicked in. Zutshi had said the meeting was a “gross violation” of the model code.

Ghosh has also been accused of reluctance to act on complaints against Trinamul.

Reaction on Saturday: Phone kept ringing

S.M.H. Meerza
Burdwan SP

Complaints have been lodged against him for allegedly attending programmes organised by Trinamul even after the model code became effective. Meerza has allegedly refused to accept complaints against the ruling party. Some complainants have accused him of interacting regularly with Trinamul leaders during the poll process.

Reaction on Saturday: Phone kept ringing

S.R. Mishra
Nadia SP

The Left Front has alleged that Mishra has not acted on complaints of attacks on its cadres by Trinamul activists in Chakdah, Ranaghat and Haringhata. According to the Left, Mishra refused to accept complaints or detain suspects even for preliminary questioning

Reaction on Saturday: I do not have anything to say. I have done my best to perform my duties honestly and without bias

Sanjay Bansal
North 24-Parganas DM

He has been accused of going slow on the probe into the alleged assault of the Habra II block development officer by a Trinamul MLA and his associates. The BDO’s police complaint was diluted following Bansal’s alleged intervention. In his second complaint, BDO Dinabandhu Gayen has not named the MLA and has confined the charges to threats and “hot talkings” by 25 Trinamul supporters

Reaction on Saturday: Phone kept ringing

J.P. Meena
Birbhum DM

The Opposition has complained to the EC that Meena did not initially act against district Trinamul president Anubrata Mondal although the leader had made several provocative speeches. After the commission’s warning, Meena issued a showcause notice to Mondal

Reaction on Saturday: Disconnected the call after introduction, phone kept ringing after that