A group of 87 former civil servants on Thursday wrote an open letter to the Election Commission, highlighting the poll panel’s “strange diffidence…in dealing with actions that impact the conduct of free and fair elections” despite the enormous powers vested in it by the Constitution to do so.

The former civil servants, who are part of the Constitutional Conduct Group, expressed concern about the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the liquor policy case and the “disturbing pattern of harassment and witch hunting of Opposition parties and Opposition politicians” ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

“The arrest of a senior Opposition political functionary at a juncture when the Lok Sabha elections had been announced and the Model Code of Conduct was in place reeks, to our mind, of deliberate, motivated executive action,” said the letter. “The law must take its course, as many legal worthies today never tire of saying, but the heavens would not have fallen if coercive action had been initiated after the end of the election process on June 4.”

The letter also said: “It is puzzling why the Income Tax Department should reopen old assessments of the Indian National Congress, as well as those of other opposition parties, that too on the eve of a general election.”

“Given the tardy record of the central law enforcement agencies in completing investigations and filing charge sheets, the undue zeal in selectively pursuing these cases gives rise to the suspicion that the motivation goes beyond a mere desire to enforce justice,” the group said.

The former civil servants accused the Election Commission of making “no efforts to assuage doubts in the minds of the thinking public and political parties about the integrity of EVMs [Electronic Voting Machines] and the need to use VVPATs [Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails] effectively to ensure accuracy in the recording of votes”.

The Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail is an independent verification system for Electronic Voting Machines. The process allows voters to check if their votes have been cast correctly.

The system is useful in detecting possible election fraud or malfunctioning of voting machines. After a 2019 Supreme Court order, slips from only five randomly selected polling stations in each Assembly segment are verified. This is done after the final round of counting of votes, recorded in the electronic voting machines, has concluded.

On April 1, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the Election Commission on a petition seeking that all Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail slips be tallied to corroborate ballots cast through Electronic Voting Machines.

The former civil servants’ group also said that the poll body has not been effective in enforcing the Model Code of Conduct and its “misuse” by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“Our group had pointed out many such instances in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but, apart from minor slaps on the wrist, the [Election Commission] failed to enforce its writ on repeated offenders,” they said. “In the current elections as well, infractions of the Model Code of Conduct by no less a personage than the prime minister have not been acted upon.”

The Lok Sabha elections will take place in seven phases from April 19 to June 1. Votes will be counted on June 4.

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