The Election Commission of India has decided to re-examine its clean chit to the NITI Aayog and the Prime Minister’s Office over an alleged violation of the Model Code of Conduct during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, The Indian Express reported on Sunday.
Last week, the poll panel had dismissed a Congress complaint alleging that the PMO misused the NITI Aayog for gathering information on Gondia, Wardha and Latur Lok Sabha constituencies ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. The complaint was based on a Scroll.in report on April 10, that said that the NITI Aayog think tank has asked bureaucrats in Union territories and at least one BJP-ruled state to send the Prime Minister’s Office inputs on local area knowledge. Scroll.in has seen an email message the NITI Aayog sent to bureaucrats in the Union territories.
But the poll body cleared the PMO and NITI Aayog despite Lavasa’s request that CEO Amitabh Kant be asked whether the office indeed sought such information.
However, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra felt the Congress’ complaint was without basis, as the exemption had been granted to the prime minister on October 7, 2014, to combine official and electioneering visits.
The Election Commission had sought comments from Kant on the matter earlier, but he denied any wrongdoing. Following Lavasa’s dissent, the poll panel sent a second notice to Kant on Thursday. However, the NITI Aayog chief executive officer has not been given any deadline to file a response.
Earlier this week, Lavasa recused himself from the Election Commission’s meetings on deciding violations of the poll code, saying that his “minority decisions were going unrecorded”. Lavasa had opposed five clearances that the poll panel gave to Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party National President Amit Shah in complaints of Model Code of Conduct violations. The commission has given Modi clearances in six such cases altogether. However, Lavasa’s dissent was not noted in the poll panel’s orders.
Lavasa said he might consider taking recourse to other measures to restore “the lawful functioning of the commission in terms of recording minority decisions”.
However, Arora on Saturday denied any rift in the Election Commission, claiming that news reports of a disagreement were “unsavoury”. Later on Saturday, the poll panel issued another statement asking people to avoid speculation, saying that this is an internal matter of the commission. It said a meeting has already been scheduled on May 21 to discuss this and other matters.