EC filed a counter affidavit, defending its order appointing Bhola Nath Director Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption as DGP, replacing 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 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 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 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.
In its affidavit, the EC also asserted it has ample powers under the Constitution, CrPC and Income Tax Act to order search and seizure of vehicles and houses to prevent money distribution.
The Court had also earlier directed the EC not to conduct searches or seizures without the authority concerned arriving at ‘subjective satisfaction' on the nature and source of information.
The court had passed an interim order on a PIL by a retired schoolteacher, 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, saying it had flooded with reports of money distribution, but it was unable to take any action.
Stating that various political parties had complained of money distribution to voters, the EC said it was its duty to ensure that proper law and order was maintained for free and fair polls and money power does not affect operation of democracy.
EC informed the court that cash and property running into crores of rupees had been seized in searches,which had yielded 9,000 detonators and large quantities of sarees and silver.
The bench has posted further hearing for tomorrow. Irked by the EC's actions, including transer of top officials, Karunanidhi had termed it “unilateral” and said “honest” police officials and district collectors were transferred just because of AIADMK's complaints.
He had also said that the vehicle checks by flying squads had totally crippled trade as the cash was seized on the plea that no proper documents were produced. PTI