The Election Commission on Tuesday submitted in the Madras High Court that the security breach in the storage room, where poll related documents of Madurai Lok Sabha seat were kept, has eroded public confidence to a significant extent about the fairness of the election process.
“The incident has created a dent and serious apprehension in the minds of public, media, candidates and political parties,” Satyabrata Sahoo, Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer said through a counter filed in the plea by CPI-M candidate Su Venkatesan, seeking a probe by a Special Investigation Team.
Sahoo said the lapse shows the need for substantial improvement in the coordination between the police and the district administration.
“For counting and results, one additional counting observer from the state civil service in the rank of additional magistrate will be appointed to report to the general observer for the constituency,” Sahoo said.
Earlier, the division bench of Justices S Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad refused to vacate the interim order directing the Election Commission (EC) to initiate disciplinary action against the transferred Madurai returning officer S Natarajan and others who were responsible for the security breach.
Technically, it was not the court’s direction, while the court was about to pass orders, the EC produced a communication informing their decision to transfer the officials and take disciplinary action against them. The same was recorded in the order, the bench said, rejecting Natarajan’s request.
Senior counsel ARL Sundaresan, appearing for Natarajan, submitted it was only the assistant returning officer who instructed the tahsildar to visit the room which was under his custody without obtaining prior permission from the returning officer.
Claiming that he was facing action for no fault on his part, Natarajan submitted that even the additional chief electoral officer who conducted an inquiry into the incident did not get any explanation from him.
“He had not been given fair opportunities to know the statements of others and to defend the allegations against him,” Sundaresan said.
Similarly, M Rajasekaran, Personal Assistant (General) to the Madurai Collector, who was alleged to have instructed the ARO to send the tahsildar to visit the room, moved an impleading petition claiming that he has no role in the election works as it was handled by a separate designated PA.
“My name has been included in the issue and action has been ordered by mistake,” he said.
As the petitioners’ counsel did not object for his impleading, the court added him as a party respondent and posted the plea to June 6 for further hearing.
On Saturday, the court directed the Election Commission to initiate disciplinary action or prosecution against M Rajasekaran and two officials for allowing polling staff to enter a storage room where records of the April 18 polls are kept.
Besides the PA, the Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime), who was in charge of election duty that day, and police personnel present there reportedly allowed a woman tahsildar and three other polling staff to enter the room.
The tahsildar is now under suspension.
The court had passed the interim order on a petition filed by CPI(M)’s Venkatesan.
According to Venkatesan, the tahsildar allegedly trespassed into the documents storage room on April 20 without any authority and remained there for three hours.
Venkatesan has submitted that three staff members of Madurai Municipal Corporation had also accompanied her.
Alleging that the unlawful incident would not have occurred without the knowledge of District Collector Natarajan, who is the Returning Officer, Venkatesan had sought an interim direction for appointment of a special observer of the rank of an IAS officer for counting the postal ballots.
Besides, the petitioner also sought three-tier security for the counting centre, transfer of the returning officer and appointment of a Special Investigation Team.