The Election Commission of India has suspended the general observer of Sambalpur parliamentary constituency in Odisha until further orders after a flying squad team in the region inspected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s helicopter. Modi was in Sambalpur district for a rally.
In its order dated Tuesday, the poll body said it had prima facie found the observer, Mohammed Mohsin, guilty of dereliction of duty as he did not act in conformity with instructions about dignitaries under SPG protection. The suspension came into force immediately.
A BJP representative confirmed that the search did take place. It is not clear what role Mohsin played in this search.
After the incident, a Deputy Election Commissioner had reportedly visited Sambalpur district and met with the Returning Officer and District Magistrate Shubham Saxena on Wednesday. Saxena did not respond to multiple calls and messages from Scroll.in, nor did Odisha’s Chief Electoral Officer Surendra Kumar.
The Election Commission of India appoints general observers in all parliamentary constituencies to ensure the conduct of a free and fair election. These are always officers from outside the state to ensure transparency and distance from the local administration.
In its suspension order, the Election Commission referred to a set of rules it had formulated in April 2014 for “SPGs” and another from March 2019. Its handbook for observers has a list of “dos and don’ts” for these officials. While it charges observers with monitoring the enforcement of the model code of conduct, it also says, “The over-arching spirit guiding the observers is cooperation and collaboration and not inquisition and enquiry.”
As election observers are appointed by the Election Commission of India, chief electoral officers in states do not have the authority to remove them.
Mohsin, an IAS officer from Karnataka, did not respond to repeated phone calls or messages.
Sambalpur votes in the third phase on April 23.
Also on Tuesday, a video of BJP MP and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan assaulting a flying squad team that inspected his helicopter in Sambalpur went viral. Pradhan had reached Sambalpur a day before Modi’s rally.
On the same day, another video appeared of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik welcoming a team that inspected his helicopter at Rourkela.