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ECI Reprimand to Jairam Ramesh, Refuses to Grant Extra Time to Substantiate Allegations

ECI Reprimand to Jairam Ramesh, Refuses to Grant Extra Time to Substantiate Allegations

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, June 3: In a virtual reprimand to the Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh for making unsubstantiated allegations, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has refused to grant his request for a week’s time to submit evidences in support of his claim that the Union Home Minister Amit Shah was trying to “influence” the district magistrates to favour the BJP during the counting of votes on Tuesday.

The Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on Monday also dared the opposition to share evidence of allegations that returning officers and district magistrates were influenced to vitiate the poll process so the panel could take action against them.

The opposition should also tell the Commission about those trying to influence the poll process before the counting of votes begins, Mr Kumar said at a press conference flanked by the two Election Commissioners Gyanesh Kumar and S.S. Sandhu. “You cannot spread a rumour and bring everyone under a cloud of suspicion,” Mr Kumar said.

Mr Ramesh was given time till Monday evening to file his response, along with evidence that Mr Shah had called up and intimidated district officers ahead of tomorrow’s counting of votes. The Commission had earlier said they had received no complaints on the issue from any district magistrate or other officials. Mr Ramesh had sought a week’s time to file his rebuttal.

“Your allegation that attempts have been made to influence the District Magistrates of around 150 Parliamentary Constituencies, who are also the ROs/DEOs, has serious connotation and direct bearing on the sanctity of the counting process, scheduled for tomorrow,” the Commission said in its response.

In a letter to Mr Ramesh, the ECI said, “The Commission hereby outrightly rejects your request for time extension and directs you to file your response along with the factual matrix/ basis of your allegation by 7 p.m. today — June 3, failing which it would be presumed that you have nothing substantive to say in the matter and the Commission would proceed ahead to take appropriate action.”

The ECI said his allegation that attempts have been made to influence the District Magistrates of around 150 parliamentary constituencies, who are also the Returning Officers and District Election Officers, has serious connotation and direct bearing on the sanctity of the counting process scheduled for June 4. The poll agency said no DM has reported any such undue influence as alleged by him.

Mr Ramesh had claimed on Saturday, the last phase of polling day, that Mr Shah was calling district magistrates and collectors, who are also the returning officers of their respective districts during the elections, and “indulging in blatant and brazen intimidation.” The Commission had made preparations to deal with any foreign attempt to influence the poll process but these allegations have come from within the country itself, he said in an apparent dig at the opposition.

Taking exception to allegations that district magistrates were being influenced, the CEC said, “Those levelling allegations should say which DM was influenced and we will punish them. They should tell us before the counting process begins.”

Mr Kumar said he had accepted all the demands made by the multi-party delegation that met the panel on Sunday, and asserted that the issues raised by them were part of the election process going on for seven decades. “Some demands were made by a multi-party delegation. We have agreed to all the demands,” Mr Kumar said, indicating that most of the issues raised by the multi-party delegation were part of election manuals.

“This process has been going on for 70 years… We have instructed every RO/ARO. These are our orders and they are no joke… Everyone has been instructed to follow the handbook/manuals,” Mr Kumar said.

Mr Kumar said the counting mechanism is robust and the process is codified so that no error can be found in it. Rajiv Kumar also hit out at those questioning the delay in releasing the final voter turnout during the seven-phase general elections.

“The entire counting process is absolutely robust. We don’t think anywhere there is a robust system like it. Every part is decided. The whole process is codified. Micro observers are in place. There cannot be any mistake in this process.

“Lakhs of people including counting officials, counting agents, micro-observers, ROs/AROs, Observers present during the world’s largest counting exercise. Before the elections, EVMs were randomised. All candidates and agents were present to observe that who were present at the booth,” CEC Rajiv Kumar said.

While admitting that the Election Commission had failed to counter the mischievous narratives spread during the poll process, Mr Kumar said, “…We failed to understand the fake narratives of the faulty voter lists and turnout data that were going on during the elections. But we have understood it now,” Mr Kumar without naming anyone.  Said.

The Congress has raised questions over the big difference between the real-time voter turnout data and the final figures released by the Election Commission and said voters are worried about the “strange goings-on” in the poll body. Other opposition parties have also questioned the delay in releasing the final voter turnout.

Rajiv Kumar also said the counting process for the postal ballots will start before the counting of electronic voting machines (EVMs). “Section 54 A of RPA Act was introduced in 1954. At that time, there were not much people for postal ballots. On all centres, counting of postal ballots will start first. After only half an hour, EVM counting will start first. It happened in 2019, it happened in all 2022 Assembly elections, it happened yesterday also in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim,” CEC said.

The ECI press conference comes a day after a delegation of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc leaders met with the poll panel to discuss issues related to the counting of votes. In their meeting with the poll body, the INDIA bloc said that ECI should issue clear, detailed guidelines for the counting process on June 4.

After meeting with ECI, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, “The vital importance of counting postal ballots first, and declaring the results of postal ballots first. This is very clearly stated in the statutory rule. This has been understood by the Election Commission over the years. Our complaint is that this statutory rule of this 2019 guideline has been given goodbye.”

Rajiv Kumar further said the largest-ever global delegation of 75 observers from 23 countries was thrilled by India’s Electoral Marvel, which showcased unparalleled scale, meticulous planning, and integrity in the conduct of elections.

“4Ms: Identified, Confronted, and Tackled Muscle, Money, Misinformation and MCC Violations – impediments to free, fair, and transparent elections were addressed and responded to,” he said.

Rajiv Kumar claimed that in the Lok Sabha elections, the poll body has not seen the violence. “This is one of the general elections where we have not seen violence. This required two years of preparation,” he said.




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