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LS Polls: Ministers went on overdrive hours before model code of conduct came into effect

Senior law ministry officials worked till the early hours of Wednesday, giving the final touches to the notification on reservation of jobs for Jats.

Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath during a press conference to announce dates for the Lok Sabha elections. (PTI) Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath during a press conference to announce dates for the Lok Sabha elections. (PTI)

From last minute “praise releases” that extolled the achievements of ministers to the rushed appointment of a Governor well past midnight, an early morning rapid-fire round of inaugurations and policy announcements, politicians and bureaucrats alike burnt the midnight oil to beat the model code of conduct that came into effect just before noon on Wednesday.

With the Election Commission making it clear that the poll dates would be announced on Wednesday morning, a flurry of announcements and events took place, most of them narrowly missing the start of the code of conduct.

Rashtrapati Bhawan, it seems, worked well past midnight, formally announcing the appointment of Sheila Dikshit as the Kerala governor at 3.20 am. The defence ministry created a record of sorts by sending a press release at as early as 7.30 am — a detailed 28-page eulogy on the “achievements” of Defence Minister A K Antony over the past eight years that included “breaching the barriers in the allocation of eggs and fruits to jawans”.

The home ministry too started work early on Wednesday, announcing that the central government has decided to withdraw from the acquisition of Wakf properties in Delhi based on certain conditions. The announcement missed the start of the EC’s press conference by just 10 minutes.

Senior law ministry officials worked till the early hours of Wednesday, giving the final touches to the notification on reservation of jobs for Jats.

The busiest minister in the morning seemed to be Sports Minister Jitendra Singh, who managed a quick round of inaugurations that beat the code of conduct. Singh launched a swimming pool project, the National Cycling Academy at Indira Gandhi Sports Complex and a Community Connect Scheme. This, despite a busy Tuesday inaugurating a central library and laying the foundation stone of the New Academic & Residential Complex of RGNIYD at Sriperumbudur.

HRD Minister Pallam Raju inaugurated a new guest house of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) at 10 am — just half-an-hour before the poll schedule was announced. The event was apparently scheduled at the last minute — the media invites were sent at 8:35 pm on Tuesday.

In fact, Raju was on an inauguration spree through the week, with three back-to-back events on Monday, and also appointed members and officials of the University Grants Commission and directors of IITs. However, he could not appoint Vice Chancellors of 12 new central universities due to procedural delays. His ministry also managed to push in last-minute half-page advertisements in newspapers on Wednesday.

The rural development ministry beat the code deadline by a day, posting a detailed press communique on its website on Tuesday, listing the number of projects for skill development of rural youth approved by the ministry under its flagship National Rural Livelihoods Mission – Aajeevika.

Environment Minister Veerappa Moily ensured that his ministry put out a significant statement late on Tuesday night, announcing that it accepts the Kerala government’s recommendations to keep agricultural land, plantations and habitations out of the “Ecologically Sensitive Areas” as identified by the Kasturirangan Committee on Western Ghats. Taking a lenient view on this politically sensitive issue, the ministry also announced that it would consider similar proposals of other states in the region if forwarded within 60 days of issuance of the draft notification.

The culture ministry led by Chandresh Kumari Katoch announced on Tuesday evening that its Secretary, Ravindra Singh, would inaugurate the Festival of India in Vietnam on March 5, 2014 in Hanoi.

Two vacancies in the National Commission of Minorities, including that of the chairman, were filled over the last two days, bypassing mandatory clearances. NCM chairman Naseem Ahmed Khan and Parsi member Dadar Mistry have taken charge, but the requisite clearances from the home ministry and the Central Board of Direct Taxes are yet to reach the commission. “It has happened in the past that members have been denied appointment over security concerns. So this is a precedent that cannot be encouraged,” said NCM sources.

Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who for the greater part of his tenure played the role of the Congress’s crisis manager, woke up to his ministerial responsibilities at the turn of the new year, going on an inauguration spree over the last month or so. He unveiled a flurry of ICMR products, from diabetes testing strips to an instrument to detect cervical cancer. Two days before the code of conduct, he inaugurated the generic drugs pharmacy and convergence block of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. In fact, when facing media fire for the last-minute transfer of former Health Secretary Keshav Desiraju, Azad hit back by saying the media had not highlighted the good work that he had unveiled over the last few weeks.

Minister of State for Railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury worked till midnight on Tuesday to push through his wishlist. He made sure that long-distance trains in tribal and backward areas in West Bengal got additional stoppages.

There were, however, last-minute hiccups too, with several plans having to be put off by the announcement of the polls. MoS for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions V Narayanasamy was scheduled to hold a press conference at 1.30 pm at the Civil Services Officers’ Institute. The programme was cancelled just minutes before the EC’s press conference.

Oil Minister M Veerappa Moily was forced to cancel three events in his home state of Karnataka, including the inauguration of a strategic oil storage facility and an R&D centre of Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd in Bangalore.

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