Assam

Assam Elections | EC suspends poll officials for ‘lift’ in vehicle linked to BJP candidate

Voters maintain social distance as they arrive to cast their votes during the second phase of the Assam Assembly election, at a polling station in Morigaon, on April 1, 2021.

Voters maintain social distance as they arrive to cast their votes during the second phase of the Assam Assembly election, at a polling station in Morigaon, on April 1, 2021.

The Election Commission has suspended four polling personnel, including a presiding officer, and an armed escort officer, besides ordering   re-poll at a booth in southern Assam’s Ratabari Assembly constituency after electronic voting machines (EVMs) were found in a vehicle linked to a BJP candidate contesting the adjoining Patharkandi seat. 

Both constituencies are in Karimganj district. 

Officials said the polling personnel were unaware they had — after their car broke down near Nilambazar, 20 km short of district headquarters Karimganj — taken a lift in a vehicle registered in the name of Madhumita Paul, the wife of Patharkandi BJP candidate Krishnendu Paul. The team was returning from 149-Indira MV School under the Ratabari constituency, about 70 km away. 

The seals of the EVMs were found intact, but the EC decided to conduct a re-poll at the polling station concerned. The poll panel also sought a report from the special general observer, who found armed escort officer Luhit Gohain guilty of leaving the stranded polling party behind and not ensuring its safe arrival at destination.

Mr. Paul did not pick up calls. But his party members said the opposition had blown a “minor” incident out of proportion. 

Explanation sought

“We have suspended presiding officer Sahab Uddin Talukdar and three others and asked them to explain why they violated the transport protocol. The team said they were unaware of who the vehicle belonged to until it was mobbed at Kanaishil, short of the district headquarters,” Karimganj’s Deputy Commissioner and District Election Officer (DEO) Anbamuthan M.P. told The Hindu

According to a statement, the mob had damaged the vehicle by the time Mr. Anbamuthan and the district Superintendent of Police reached the spot. The police had to resort to “blank firing” to disperse the stone-pelting mob after the SP sustained minor injuries. 

The EC has sought a ground report on the incident that happened about 10 p.m. on Thursday, four hours after the second phase of polling across 39 of Assam’s 126 Assembly seats had concluded. 

District officials said the polling team had left booth No. 149 for Karimganj, about 70 km away, in a convoy of armed security personnel led by police sector officer Luhit Gohain. Their vehicle broke down at 9 p.m., but it had by then got separated from the convoy due to traffic congestion and rainfall. 

“The party alighted from the vehicle and called sector officer Ajoy Sutradhar on his mobile phone and informed him. While the sector officer was arranging an alternative vehicle, the polling party decided to arrange a vehicle of its own so as to reach the Material Receipt Centre faster” as they were carrying the EVMs. 

Mob stops vehicle

Around 9.20 p.m., the EC report said, the polling party waved down a passing vehicle and boarded it along with their EVMs and other things without checking the vehicle’s ownership. A mob of 50 people stopped the vehicle as it slowed down on the outskirts of Karimganj due to traffic and started pelting stones. 

The first polling officer was found missing in the commotion, the EVMs and other polling party members were safely escorted from the area and taken into the control of the DEO. “On examination, the polled EVM comprising of BU, CU and VVPAT was found to be with its seal intact without any damage whatsoever. All the items have been deposited in the strong room,” the report said. 

“Although the seals of the EVM were found intact, it has nevertheless been decided to do a re-poll at No. 149-Indira MV School of Ratabari (SC) as an added precaution. A report has also been sought from the special observer,” the EC report said.

The special observer found no “deliberate or mala fide intention in the incident aimed at disrupting the polling process”, and marked it as an isolated case “due to the total negligence and foolishness of the presiding officer and his team”. Prescribing action against the armed escort officer for leaving the stranded polling team behind, the special observer recommended his suspension.


Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Aug 27, 2022 10:18:05 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/assam-assembly/assam-repoll-in-one-polling-station-after-evm-controversy/article61919291.ece