Expressing concerns over some recent decisions of the central government, the Election Commission has told the Centre that it should "strictly adhere" to the provisions of the Model Code of Conduct to ensure “level playing fields” in poll-bound states.
The EC in a letter to Cabinet Secretary P.K. Sinha on January 27 said that some ministries and government departments took decisions, which have the "effect of disturbing level playing fields of poll bound states", without referring the decisions to the panel.
"The Commission has noted that in certain cases, the Ministries/Departments took decisions, which have effect of disturbing level playing fields of poll bound states, without referring the matter to the Commission, particularly by NITI Aayog, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Finance," the EC said in the letter.
The EC also asked the Cabinet Secretary to issue "necessary instructions" to all concerned in this matter to all ministries and departments to "strictly adhere" to the commission's guidelines.
Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi recently said that the government had not consulted the poll body on the presentation of the Union Budget on February 1. The oppositions reached out to the Commission to prevent the govt from presenting the budget, just three days before polls in Punjab and Goa on February 4.
The commission has given the govt a go-ahead with a rider that no new schemes specific to the poll-bound states will be announced.
In respect to the Defence Ministry, the commission was only informed of the Combined Commanders’ Conference when the Prime Minister’s Office sought the EC’s concurrence for Narendra Modi’s presence at the January 21 event in Dehradun, according to the Indian Express report.
The Defence Ministry defended the move saying the decision was taken on December 2016, when the Model Code of Conduct had not come into effect. The commission reportedly told the ministry that it has to be consulted even if the decision was made before the announcement of polls.
The event was allowed with the condition that it would not be combined with any other public event and no announcement with regard to serving or retired soldiers would be made.
NITI Aayog was pulled up by the commission for holding special gram sabhas in the five poll-bound states without seeking its permission.
"... Your office should have taken prior approval of the Commission from model code angle before before addressing a letter to district officers who are also district election officers," the Commission said in a letter to Niti Aayog Vice Chairman.
It made it clear that the programme cannot be held on Republic Day in these states and should only be organised once the elections are over.
While Punjab and Goa will go to polls together on February 4, Uttarakhand on February 15 and Manipur in two phases on 4 and 8 March, Uttar Pradesh elections will be held in seven phases between February 11 and March 8 with counting in all states on 11 March.