Commission’s powers under RP Act limited to candidates, agents

In a stinging indictment, the Gujarat High Court on Friday called “unconstitutional” and “illegal” the searches and seizure of anything over Rs. 2.5 lakh (in cash and kind) from any car by static surveillance teams of the Election Commission.

Observing that the action was not only uncalled for as the names of Assembly election candidates had not even been announced, a Division Bench, headed by Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya, said it infringed on the personal liberty and privacy of a person guaranteed under Article 21.

Any search and seizure had to be carried out in accordance with the law, and “not the wishes of the EC.” Even the Criminal Procedure Code and the Income Tax Act did not permit such powers. “The EC can’t replace the Cr.PC and the I-T Act,” the court said. The powers given to the EC’s surveillance teams are “alien to our legal and constitutional system.” The court said random and indiscriminate seizures would be invalid even after the names of the candidates were announced. “The EC can act only act if it has credible and reliable information.”

The EC’s powers under the Representation of the People Act were limited only to candidates or their agents, and could be exercised only after the notification under Section 15 of the Act was issued and the nomination process commenced, the court said on petitions filed by an NGO, Bhagyodaya Jan Parishad, and a host of trade and industry bodies.

The haul so far

Till November 8, over 750 check squads of the EC confiscated as much as Rs. 23 crore in cash, 100 kg of silver and over 16 kg of gold, apart from cellphones, vehicles, narcotics, and arms and ammunition in 165 cases in all. More than Rs. 22 crore of the seized cash was handed over to the I-T Department, said Gujarat’s Chief Electoral Officer Anita Karwal.

The EC has 587 operational static surveillance teams and 182 flying squads for the Assembly elections.