Assam EVM Row: EC Officials, BJP MLA’s Supporters Violated Rules
As per rules, the incident with the EVM on 1 April in Assam’s Karimganj was an electoral malpractice.
The Election Commission has admitted that it did use the vehicle of a BJP MLA Krishnendu Paul’s wife to transport an Electronic Voting Machine after polling in Assam's Karimganj district.
Paul is the BJP MLA from Patharkandi in Karimganj district while the EVM belonged to the neighbouring seat of Ratabari.
This is a violation of rules on the part of both the EC officials as well as the people in the BJP MLA's vehicle.
But first, here's what the EC said about the incident that took place on 1 April.
What EC Said
Here are relevant excerpts from the EC's reply:
- "As the above mentioned polling party was approaching Nilam Bazaar, the vehicle which had been allotted by the transport cell of election branch, DC office, to the party carrying the polling party broke down at about 2100 hrs on 01 April 2021. Due to the traffic congestion and the prevailing weather condition, the party became detached from its convoy.
- "While the sector officer was arranging for an alternate vehicle, polling party decided to arrange a vehicle of its own so as to reach the Material Receipt Centre faster since they were in custody of polled EVMs.”
- At about 2120 hrs, the polling party hailed a passing vehicle and boarded it along with their EVM and other things without checking the ownership of the vehicle bearing the number AS-10B-0022. As reported by the polling party, they moved towards Karimganj and as they reached Kanaishil in Karimganj at about 2200 hrs, they had to slow down in the traffic.
- As they slowed down, they were surrounded by a mob of about 50 people which started pelting stones at them. The mob also started abusing them and did not allow the vehicle to pass.
- When they asked the leader of the mob, he replied that it was the vehicle of Sri Krishnendu Paul who is a contesting candidate of a neighbouring constituency (Patharkandi LAC-2) and he levelled allegations that the EVM was being taken to be tampered with. It was only then that they realised that something was amiss and alerted the Sector Officer."
What Rules Did EC Officials Violate?
In this context, it is relevant to look at EC's instructions regarding storage of polled EVMs from December 2018.
The EC says, "Under no circumstances will any person take any EVM, whether polled EVM or reserved EVM, in the custody of sector officers, to his home or any private place. All polled EVMs and all reserved EVMs after the poll shall be under cover of armed police at all times."
Did BJP MLA Also Violate the Rules?
It has been established that the vehicle did belong to the wife of BJP candidate Krishnendu Paul. The vehicle with the said registration number has even been listed as part of his wife's wealth in his 2021 election affidavit.
The people present in the car are also in violation of EC norms and can be charged with participating in an electoral malpractice.
According to Section 135 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951: "If the Presiding officer of a polling station has reason to believe that any person has removed ballot paper or EVM out of polling station, such officer may arrest or direct a police officer to arrest such person and may search such person or cause him to be searched by a police officer. On the orders of the Presiding Officer, Police can arrest the offender, 1 year's imprisonment or fine or both."
Legally, EVM has the same status as ballot box used to under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, in terms of rules regarding their capture and defacement.
So it is clear that the car belonging to the BJP MLA's wife was used for a possible electoral malpractice.
What Action Has EC Taken?
According to the EC's release: "The Presiding Officer was issued show cause notice for violation of the transport protocol. Thereafter, the PO & 3 other officials have been placed under suspension. Although the seals of the EVM were found intact, it has nevertheless been decided to do a re-poll at No. 149- Indira M.V. School of LAC 1 Ratabari (SC) as added precaution. A report has also been sought from the Special Observer."
Is This Sufficient?
As of now, the EC has only taken action against four officials. There's been no action against the BJP MLA or his wife, whose car was used to transport the EVM. It has also taken no action against the people present in the car while the EVM was being transported. As per rules, these people shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near the EVM and their presence can be termed as an electoral malpractice.
Also, the fact that the car belonging to BJP candidate Krishnendu Paul was used for an alleged electoral malpractice should be sufficient ground for initiating an enquiry against him.
(With inputs from Poonam Agarwal)
(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.