Quraishi reacts strongly to Badal’s remarks on jurisdiction

New Delhi/chandigarh, Jan 3 (IANS) In a strong tit-for-tat reaction, Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi Tuesday wrote to Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, saying the commission was ‘aware’ of its ‘constitutional mandate’ and was ‘disappointed’ the Akali Dal leader chose the ‘media to communicate’ about the poll panel’s actions in the run-up to the Jan 30 assembly elections.

He also requested the chief minister to bring any ‘specific cases’ of concern to the CEC.

In his letter sent from New Delhi, Quraishi said: ‘We have seen with deep dismay media reports quoting a statement emanating from you that questions the actions of the commission’s officials during the election period.’

‘The reports mention that you have solicited my intervention so that our officials ‘act with constitutional restraint’. I am particularly disappointed that you have chosen to communicate with me and the commission through the media rather than directly for which several channels are always available,’ he added.

His reaction came after Badal, in a strongly worded statement in Chandigarh, said: ‘The election officials (in Punjab) should treat the observance of the model code of election conduct as their primary task. No one should overstep their constitutional mandate.’
Badal has urged the ECI to ask its officials in the state ‘to act within the parameters of their constitutional brief’.

‘Let me assure you that the commission operates within the diligent awareness of its constitutional mandate and recognizes with the greatest respect the operational boundaries between various constitutional bodies. If there have been any deviations in our work, we would be grateful if you bring specific cases to our notice,’ Quraishi said.

‘Both the commission and I personally value your standing as a political leader and statesman, besides fully respecting your high office. Hence the commission is concerned that you have made general allegations of interference against its officials and questioned their conduct without any basis,’ Quraishi said.

This, he said, would dent the morale of the election commission officials and bring them under undue pressure with respect to ensuring free and fair polls, which is the bedrock of governance, development and betterment of people.

Badal’s statement was attributed to Punjab election officials first strictly enforcing the cash carrying limit of Rs 100,000 and then raising it to Rs 250,000 with valid documents and stopping the release of flood relief funds and land acquisition compensation and then allowing it within hours.

The CEC said the enforcement of measures against black-money in elections was backed by a national consensus and also by the concerns expressed by all political parties.

‘At the same time, Election Commission of India has due regard for citizens’ convenience and that is why it keeps its own instructions under dynamic review. Upward revising of cash carrying limit from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 2.5 lakh was one such instance. It would be unwise to see this as a weakness, as this indeed is the action of a responsive Commission,’ Quraishi added.

‘In view of the above, we would request you to kindly reconsider your stated position on the working of the Election Commission of India officials. You would agree that we must not do anything at this juncture that can undermine election management, the ongoing election process and overall electoral democracy in the state of Punjab as well as the whole country,’ he said in his letter.

Badal had said: ‘Unfortunately the manner in which the EC officials were taking their decisions is causing confusion about the lines of administrative control in the state and this can have negative impact on the morale and efficiency of the law enforcing machinery. And that can be dangerous for peace and law and order’.

The CEC responded: ‘As you know, the maintenance of law and order during election times is a basic pre-condition for free and fair polls and as such commission can only have a vested interest in ensuring the same rather than ignoring it. I need to assure you that the same is being done in right earnest.’

Quraishi quoted the Supreme Court’s observation that the commission’s perceptions about law and order during elections should be respected.

The Congress also attacked Badal, with party spokesperson Manish Tewari saying in New Delhi ‘it was the case of the pot calling the kettle black’. Tewari also accused the Punjab government of ‘transgressing every constitutional norm in the past five years’.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid said: ‘The EC is equipped to deal with any complaints made during elections.’