Chief Election Commissioner Sampath clarified that Mumbai was "not notorious" for paid news and Mr. Brahma’s remarks were "only a figure of speech"

Election Commissioner H. S. Brahma described Mumbai as the “known capital of paid news” in the presence of his colleagues V.S. Sampath and Nasim Zaidi on Friday. Later, facing a barrage of questions from an angry press corps, Mr. Brahma backtracked and extended an apology following the hostile response his remarks generated.

Chief Election Commissioner Sampath also clarified at the press conference that Mumbai was “not notorious” for paid news and Mr. Brahma’s remarks were “only a figure of speech”. Mr. Brahma pointed out that the biggest case of paid news had emanated from Maharashtra and involved former chief minister Ashok Chavan, who has just been given the Congress ticket from Nanded.

On his part, Mr. Sampath said that Mr. Chavan’s paid news case was now awaiting verdict in the Supreme Court, adding that the Commission has so far not received any complaints of paid news from Maharashtra ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

The press conference, a summing up of the review meetings the full Commission had with a range of officials in Mumbai, got diverted into controversy following Mr. Brahma’s comments. The CEC said that “vulnerability mapping” was being conducted by the Commission to ensure that voters in sensitive areas were able to cast their ballots without fear. “Luckily, intimidation of voters is not at a large scale,” Mr. Sampath stated.

Referring to the ethical voting campaign being conducted by the poll panel, the CEC said voters should be free from the influence of money power, caste, creed, and religion when they cast their ballot. He said these messages would be staring at the voter even when they stood in the queue to vote.

In response to questions, the CEC stated that the Commission was still to take a view in the complaint filed against Union Agriculture Minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar. Mr. Pawar has expressed regret for his remarks that allegedly called upon those present at a meeting to vote twice.

Mr. Sampath said that in the wake of the natural calamity, a reference to the recent hailstorms in the State, all government officials had been advised that relief must reach the affected. At the same time, they had been instructed to ensure that no “non-officials” were involved in relief disbursement.

Asked if any special arrangements had been made for areas with Maoist influence, the CEC said senior officials had visited these places and “all arrangements” had been made. To check money flow, surveillance was being maintained at airports and hotels. Special flying squads had been created to tackle the problem, Mr. Sampath revealed. Polling booths would be open for to voters from 7 am to 6 pm for the Lok Sabha polls, the CEC added.