The Congress on Friday questioned the process followed in the appointment of Maharashtra’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), mounting yet another offensive in a controversy pertaining to the advertising agency hired by the latter for publicity just before 2019 Assembly polls.
In a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, state Congress general secretary and party’s spokesperson, Sachin Sawant, said: “There are serious questions with regards to the procedures followed for the appointment.”
Baldev Singh, a Maharashtra cadre IAS officer of the 1989 batch, is currently occupying the post. He was appointed last July, which was three months before the Assembly polls were due in the state. The appointment came almost immediately after his repatriation to the state cadre.
Sawant alleged that the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has ordered an investigation into allegations of misuse of power and position against Singh on May 11, 2018, when he was the development commissioner of the Union Commerce Ministry’s Santacruz Electronics Export Processing Zone in Mumbai.
“There is a pending vigilance inquiry ordered by the CVC in this regard,” said Sawant.
He added that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had also passed strictures against senior officials at SEEPZ in the same matter, which dealt with the award of a capital
works contract and additional expenditure sanctioned for the same, in alleged deviation from norms.
Singh, when contacted, refuted Congress’ allegations as being “sad, mischievous and misleading”.
Taking to twitter to rubbish the accusations, he wrote, “These are absolutely false, untrue and incorrect allegations. The capital works being referred were allotted to the contractor before the present CEO had joined as Development Commissioner, SEEPZ. All the payments to the contractor were also released by the predecessor. All details in this regard have been shared with the competent authorities.”
The CEO’s office pointed to an official document by Union Ministry of Commerce dated July 3, 2020, which was also released by the Congress, stating that the name of the CEO was not mentioned in the case.
As per norms, the Election Commission of India (ECI) appoints a serving civil servant from a panel recommended by the state government.
Last July, when Singh was appointed, the BJP was still in power in the state.
Raising questions over the process employed, the Congress has asked if then state government was aware of the pending inquiry in the matter and had informed the E.CI about it. It has also asked whether the ECI had consulted the CVC in the matter. Singh’s office had earlier refused allegations of appointing an agency allegedly associated with the BJP for publicity work before the Assembly polls, even as the Congress asked the ECI to probe the charge.
The ECI had sought an explanation in the matter from Singh’s office in wake of RTI activist Saket Gokhale alleging on Twitter that the Maharashtra CEO had “hired the BJP IT Cell for handling their social media” before the election.
Gokhale had said that the government-empanelled agency, Signpost India, employed by the CEO, shared its registered address with another agency that was owned by Dave – the national convenor of IT and social media of BJP’s youth wing. Singh had last week denied any “direct or indirect connection” with Devang Dave and his agency.
Taking off from Gokhale’s allegation, the Congress has alleged that the “voter databases and demographics were made available to the BJP through the social media agency,” a charge that had been denied by Singh.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines