Monday, March 28, 2011

We have ample powers to order search and seizure: EC

Chennai, March 28, 2011

The Election Commission on Monday asserted in the Madras High Court that it has ample powers under the Constitution, CrPC and Income Tax Act to order search and seizure of vehicles and houses to prevent distribution of money in the run up to the April 13 assembly polls.

The EC stated its position in a counter affidavit to the court's order last week, directing it not to conduct searches or seizures without the authority concerned arriving at the 'subjective satisfaction' on the nature and source of information.

A Division Bench, comprising Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and M. Venugopal had passed the interim order on a Public Interest Litigation by a retired school teacher, seeking a direction to restrain authorities from conducting "illegal" and "arbitrary searches" and seizing property from vehicles on important highways.

When the matter came up today before the First Bench, comprising Chief Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice T. S. Sivagnanam, EC counsel G. Rajagopalan sought a stay on the order, which he said had resulted in EC being flooded with reports of money distribution, but not being able to take action.

The EC submitted various political parties in meetings with the Commission had complained of money distribution to voters.

"It is the Commission's duty to ensure proper law and order is maintained for free and fair polls and that money power did not affect the operation of democracy." EC's instructions had resulted in seizure of cash and property running into crores of Rupees, the affidavit said.

During searches, about 9000 detonators were seized from vehicles proceeding from Salem without any documents. Also, in separate incidents, large quantities of sarees, dhotis and silver had been seized. Further over 3623 litres of liquor had been seized and 244 persons arrested, it said.

The bench posted further hearing for Tuesday.

The EC's tough action had received flak from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK President M. Karunanidhi, who had questioned the rationale behind it, saying vehicle checks by flying squads had totally crippled trade as the cash was seized on the plea that no proper documents were produced.

Opposition parties however welcomed the EC's action and accused Mr. Karunanidhi of trying to 'intimidate' the Commission.

Shifting of police officials

Election Commission today told Madras High Court there was no bias in its decision to shift state DGP and top officials and justified search and seizure of vehicles to curb use of money power in the April 13 Assembly polls.

EC had filed a counter affidavit, defending its order appointing Bhola Nath, Director, Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption as DGP, replacing Ms. Letika Saran, an action which had drawn the ire of Chief Minister M Karunanidhi.

A Division Bench, comprising Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and M Venugopal had last week taken suo motu cognisance of a news report on Mr. Karunanidhi's criticism of the EC's action following which the commission filed a comprehensive affidavit today.

"It is open to the EC to nominate any officer as DGP for conducting elections for avoidance of any controversy.

This could never be treated as bias and any such interference is totally unwarranted", the EC said.

The Court had said Mr. Karunanidhi's statement raised questions whether EC could unilaterally announce and fix poll schedule with long gaps between voting and counting dates without following principles of deliberations and consultations.

It had also raised questions whether EC could unilaterally order transfer of officials in general and DGP in particular, without consulting the State government.

In reply, the EC said it is within its powers to nominate any DGP for conducting the polls, which cannot be questioned.

EC also noted Ms. Saran has not questioned its decision on the ground of bias and the court cannot take notice of the Chief Minister's statement in an election meeting.

Maintaining it was open to the EC to nominate any officer as DGP to conduct the elections to avoid any controversy, it said "This could never be treated as bias and such interference is totally unwarranted."

"It is within the powers of the EC to decide who shall be district Election Officer or who shall be the Superintendent of Police of a concerned district", the counsel said.

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