Election Commission awaits probe report on IAS officer

The officer had ordered the inspection of the Prime Minister’s helicopter in Odisha

By Our Bureau in New Delhi
  • Published 19.04.19, 8:13 AM
  • Updated 19.04.19, 8:13 AM
  • 2 mins read
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The Election Commission Picture: Prem Singh

The Election Commission on Thursday said it was awaiting a report from a senior officer for clarity on the circumstances that led to the suspension of an IAS officer who had ordered the inspection of the Prime Minister’s helicopter in Odisha on Tuesday.

“The officer was suspended because prima facie it was found that he was not doing his duty according to the ECI (Election Commission of India) rules. He didn’t follow certain instructions by the ECI,” deputy election commissioner Umesh Sinha said in New Delhi in response to a question.

“A senior officer, however, has been deputed to probe the entire issue and the commission will proceed on the basis of the report,” Sinha said, adding that the report was likely to be submitted on Friday.

Asked who brought the incident to the commission’s notice, Sinha avoided a direct reply. “It was brought to the notice of the commission,” he first said. Asked again by whom, he said “by field officers and the CO (central observer)”.

On Wednesday night, an Election Commission spokesperson had said it had been brought to its notice that the general observer had violated instructions and it had been “laid down that SPG protectees are excluded from checking”.

Told that rules available in the public domain do not mention such an exemption, the spokesperson had sought time to clear the air.

On Thursday, the spokesperson shared with reporters a circular from the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security on the “security procedure for general aviation operations, chartered aircraft operations and helicopter operations during the election process”.

When it was pointed out that the circular has no mention of the SPG, the spokesperson referred to Para 1(i), which covers “Pre-embarkation checks at Commercial Airports”.

The paragraph says: “During election process, all rules and procedures with regard to frisking and checking of persons and baggage should be strictly enforced without any exception. All passengers (excepting those who are exempted under the rules) and all the baggage (excepting that which is exempted under the rules) boarding any aircraft/helicopters including commercial/chartered flights will pass through the pre-embarkation security checks area of operational airports.”

The preceding paragraph says the security procedures will be followed at “controlled and uncontrolled airport /airfield/ airstrips/ heliports/ heli-fields/ Waterdromes etc”.

But the paragraph refers to pre-embarkation checks, not inspections on the field itself. Besides, the objective behind the circular is to ensure safety and security, whereas the poll-related inspection is aimed at ensuring such means of transportation are not used for ferrying cash for electoral malpractice.

The suspended officer is now staying in a guesthouse of Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd in Sambalpur.

Congress leader Ahmed Patel said there was no bar on checking convoys of SPG protectees.

Patel tweeted: “There have been instances where during polls, the Election Commission was allowed to check convoys of both current and former Congress president. SPG protectees can’t be frisked personally. Why suspend an officer for checking PM’s chopper? What message is being sent? Law is special for some?”

Congress leader Randeep Surjewala tweeted: “Modi who plays the game of raids on opposition leaders by misusing agencies got scared by a 15-minute check? The Election Commission had to remove its own official. Is Modi objecting to checking of his helicopter after a huge box was found in his chopper in Karnataka?” The box had been seen near the chopper in a video.