The Bengaluru bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal on Thursday stayed the order of the Election Commission suspending Indian Administrative Service officer Mohammed Mohsin for checking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s helicopter in Odisha and permitted him to resume service in Karnataka. The tribunal adjudicates disputes involving employees of the central government.

“During an election process while reasonable assurances of protection and security must be made available to (Special Protection Group) protectees, it cannot be said that they are eligible for anything and everything,” the tribunal said in its order, of which has a copy.

Mohsin, an IAS official from Karnataka, was posted as General Observer on behalf of the Election Commission of India in Odisha’s Sambalpur. The Election Commission suspended Mohsin on April 16, the same day a team inspected Modi’s helicopter, on the basis of a written complaint by the District Election Officer of Sambalpur. The poll panel said it found the IAS officer guilty of dereliction of duty as he did not act in conformity with instructions about dignitaries under Special Protection Group protection.

“We will not go into the SPG protectees guidelines as per the bluebook (SPG’s security guidelines for its protectees) right now but the rule of law must prevail,” the order said.

Mohsin told that he approached the Central Administrative Tribunal on Thursday morning after the Election Commission did not respond to an emailed appeal he sent them on the night of April 23. Sambalpur voted in the third phase on April 23.

“Until now I have not got any piece of paper (from the Election Commission), about what complaint was sent to them from the (District Election Officer),” Mohsin said. “So as per my knowledge (of the incident), I filed an appeal to the Chief Election Commissioner and after I received no response for two days, I approached the CAT as their holidays were approaching.”

A Deputy Election Commissioner was sent to Sambalpur for an inquiry into the search only on April 17, the day after Mohsin was suspended.

“The report of the Deputy Election Commissioner deputed to Sambalpur is awaited,” said Sheyphali Sharan, spokesperson of the Election Commission.

Mohsin received orders to return to his headquarters on the night of April 20, he said, and returned to Bengaluru on April 21. The Central Administrative Tribunal said the case will be heard next on June 3.

The incident

The tribunal’s order finally throws light on Mohsin’s version of the incidents of April 16. It says that the Superintendent of Police of Sambalpur and “Shri Uday of SPG” agreed to allow the helicopter to be videographed from a distance. Mohsin visited and left the site before the videography occurred, but claimed that he had advised the videography take place only after consulting with Special Protection Group officials. After this, the Special Protection Group complained to the Election Commission that SPG protectees “must be exempt from all such intrusions into their private life.”

It also cited another instance of a black trunk which was carried away from the prime minister’s helicopter during a rally in Karnataka, the tribunal said, taking note of submissions made by Mohsin’s lawyer. “Questions were raised about it but apparently no action followed,” the order said. It added that that no action was taken when election officials checked the private vehicles of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy more than once, and that Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s vehicles had also been checked.

While the Central Administrative Tribunal declined to go into the details of whether Mohsin had violated any rules until further hearing, neither instruction referred to in the Election Commission’s suspension order clearly forbids searching Special Protection Group protectees’ vehicles.

The Election Commission suspension order refers to two instructions which it claims Mohsin violated, one from 2014 and another from 2019. The 2014 instruction is about the use of government vehicles during the model code of conduct period. This instruction allows an exception to be made for the prime minister. There is no mention of whether the prime minister’s vehicle can be inspected in this instruction.

The 2019 instruction refers to the protocol for inspection of chartered aircraft or helicopters during the election process. While the section for commercial airports says that all passengers except those exempted from the rules shall be searched before embarkation, the section on non-commercial airports and helipads makes no such mention, leaving any exemption ambiguous.