EC on backfoot
The Election Commission’s withdrawal of the expenditure observer who led a search team to raid the residence of minister Rakibul Hussain is a warning to poll officials not to overstep their jurisdiction. There is a thin line between pro-active duty and over-reaching one’s authority, which the errant official failed to appreciate. It gave the Congress an opportunity to go on the offensive with allegations of ‘political conspiracy and the Central government’s high-handed action against opposition parties’, triggering an unsavory row that did the Election Commission no good. The Assam Pradesh Congress particularly took issue at the manner the EC official, accompanied by CRPF and police personnel, surrounded Hussain’s residence on March 16 ‘without any prior intimation or notice’, stopped his vehicle and forcefully searched it, all the while refusing to divulge his identity. Later, the EC official, after allowing Hussain and his family members to leave, is said to have raided the minister’s residence in the absence of any of his family members or third party independent witness, which was against due procedures. An embarrassed EC has now made it clear that it ‘does not authorize any of its observers to carry out any enforcement activities by himself’ — that on receiving such information, they are required to pass it on to enforcement agencies for appropriate action, while continuing as per guidelines to monitor the action taken. It transpires that after the Income Tax department began a search and seizure operation independently after getting ‘specific inputs’ ostensibly about illegal money, the EC expenditure observer activated a flying squad ‘as part of follow-up action’. This follow-up action by the EC official who reached the spot himself, was not at all necessary and beyond his jurisdiction, for which serious ‘lapse’ the commission has asked the controlling authority to initiate suitable departmental action against him. What the Income Tax and Election Commission raiding parties reportedly maged to recover was Rs 6 lakh in cash from Hussain’s residence, but the money was returned without any seizure, as the minister could furnish a proper bank statement to substantiate that he had made the withdrawal from his bank account. While it is true that uccounted cash, illicit liquor and welfare materials meant for the poor are being seized all over the State, EC officials need to be very circumspect and seen to be operating by the rule book if their actions are to carry full credibility in public perception.