The Election Commission (EC) of India has written to Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha asking him if State Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim is holding two offices of profit.
Earlier, there was no conflict of interest when Hakim was both a councillor and an MLA. However, after his tenure as the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) Mayor got over, he became the Chairman of the KMC’s Board of Administrators, a post which has triggered the question.
On July 1, Vijay Kumar Pandey, one of the directors (Law) of the poll body, wrote the letter received by the state secretariat. He asked the government why Hakim should not be dismissed as MLA.
Commenting on the letter, a senior IAS officer said, “The question is baseless. We will answer at the right time.”
Two of the nine questions asked by the EC are about the remuneration paid to Hakim in the form of salary allowances, and the nature of duties assigned to him when he was made the chairperson of the KMC’s Board of Administrators. The poll body also asked when the order or notofication creating the post was issuedand if it was “under the Government of West Bengal”.
The EC also demanded a copy of the appointment order, and sought to know about the competent authority that appointed the minister to the post. It also asked for details about the appointment procedure, information about other facilities or pecuniary benefits provided to Hakim, and exemptions granted to his office under any order or Act.
The poll panel said Additional Chief Secretary to the Governor, Satish Tiwari, had written to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Aurora on the matter on June 22. In the letter, Tiwari said Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar had received two letters accusing Hakim of holding two offices of profit. The letters also sought Hakim’s dismissal as MLA, citing Section 191(1)(A) of the Constitution. Tiwari said the Governor wanted to seek the EC’s opinion on the matter.
In its reply, the poll panel told Dhankhar that it would seek clarification from the state government and then take a call on the matter.
In 2007, 115 posts were included in the list of offices of profit in West Bengal. In 2011, the list was amended and the number was increased to 126.
However, since the office of Chairman of KMC’s Board of Administrators was created this year, it does not feature in that list. The board was formed after the municipal election was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The post of KMC Mayor was also not included among offices of profit.
Responding to the EC letter, Hakim said: “There is no question of giving up my membership of the Legislative Assembly. I am not taking any salary or any advantage from the post of Chairman of the Board of Administrators. I am not taking any allowance, car or enjoying any other perks. The BJP and Governor jointly want to disturb us. The court has already asked me to continue my duty, and I will do that accordingly.”
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