The additional chief electoral officer in Goa has referred to the Election Commission a complaint alleging that the state government signed a mining lease with Vedanta Limited in violation of the Model Code of Conduct, reported The Indian Express on Thursday.

The Model Code of Conduct is a set of guidelines issued by the election commission that political parties, candidates and governments have to follow while campaigning. The guidelines came into effect on March 16 when the poll body announced the schedule for the Lok Sabha elections.

On April 5, the non-governmental organisation Goa Foundation filed a complaint with the chief electoral officer in Goa, alleging that the lease deed between the state government and Vedanta Limited for resuming mining in Bicholim Mining Block 1 was signed on March 22.

The organisation alleged that the agreement was “now being used by the government to win votes by informing voters that mining has resumed in Goa”, reported The Indian Express.

Claude Alvares, the director of the Goa Foundation, claimed the purpose of the lease was to benefit the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the state, according to Hindustan Times.

The office of the state’s chief electoral officer subsequently sought a response to the complaint from the Directorate of Mines and Geology. In its reply, the state government said signing the lease deed was a “contractual obligation” and did not violate the Model Code of Conduct.

“The MCC prohibits the signing of new agreements or MoUs [memorandum of understanding] where the government is a party without prior clearance from the Election Commission,” said the department. “However, it is essential to recognise that the execution of the mining lease in Vedanta’s case was not a new agreement. It was a continuation of an existing contractual commitment and statutory requirement predating the MCC.”

The state government also said that the process of auctioning the mine had started on September 30, 2022, and was required to be concluded by April 12, 2024.

The additional chief electoral officer, however, said the government’s response was “not satisfactory”, according to The Indian Express.

In a letter to the Election Commission, the officer said: “It is observed that the mining lease deed executed by the department though may amount to be part of the same contractual commitment, however, it is an independent agreement and since it was executed during the Model Code of Conduct period, it was binding on the part of the department to obtain prior permission of Election Commission of India.”