With the Election Commission under fire for not stepping in amid continuing tax raids on mostly Opposition leaders, the poll panel reiterated its advice to the Revenue Secretary and the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) in a meeting Tuesday to maintain neutrality and keep the EC informed in case of suspected use of illicit money for polls.
On Monday, responding to the EC’s advice that action taken by agencies during polls should be “neutral”, “impartial” and “non-discriminatory”, the Revenue Department had said it understood what “neutrality” meant — and that the panel should advise its own officers to curb use of illicit money and keep tax officers in the loop.
In Tuesday’s meeting with Revenue Secretary A B Pandey and CBDT Chairman P C Mody, sources said, the EC objected to the tone of the response.
Not so neutral despite claims
In its response to an EC advisory, the Revenue Department has claimed that it understands the concept of non-discrimination while carrying out its duty. But the tax department’s action against Opposition leaders does not support that assertion of “neutrality”.
“It was made known that the tone wasn’t acceptable to the Commission. They have been told that the Commission would not want to get into all raids undertaken by I-T authorities, but expects to be suitably informed of ones that are related to electoral malpractice. They should inform the CEO and submit a full report after the investigation is complete,” said an official.
The meeting came a day after the CBDT released a statement on the I-T searches at the premises of relatives and aides of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath. The CBDT claimed that it had detected a “widespread and well-organised racket of collection of unaccounted cash of about Rs 281 crore”, including transfer of Rs 20 crore to the “headquarter of a major political party in Delhi”.
The Chief Electoral Officer of Madhya Pradesh had conveyed to the EC that he was informed of the raids in the state several hours after they were conducted.
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The Congress has alleged that the searches were carried out at the behest of the BJP and were aimed at maligning the image of the party during elections.
On Tuesday, the EC also wrote to the I&B Ministry asking it to direct DD News Channel to “desist from extending any preferential or disproportionate airtime coverage in favour of any party”. The EC noted that airtime coverage to different parties was “not balanced”…”which is not in accordance with the principle of maintaining neutrality and level-playing field”.
As reported by The Indian Express on April 6, the BJP has got the most coverage on DD News and its regional channels since the announcement of Lok Sabha elections, followed by the Congress, according to details submitted to the EC. The gap, in terms of airtime granted, is learnt to be significant.
The EC had sought a report from the channel on the airtime provided to all political parties after the Congress alleged that DD News is giving preferential treatment to the BJP.
On the biopic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, set for release on April 11, the EC had decided to write to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) seeking clarification on whether the film, ‘PM Narendra Modi’, has been certified or not. A decision on its release will only be taken after examining the response, sources said.
That apart, last week, the EC is learnt to have denied permission to the Home Ministry for the second phase of special remission to prisoners, as part of commemoration of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, scheduled on April 6. The ministry had sought clearance from the EC under the Model Code of Conduct, but has been asked to put it on hold till the elections gets over.