EC countermands Rajya Sabha poll in Jharkhand
"The Commission is satisfied that the current election process for Rajya Sabha election from Jharkhand has been seriously vitiated and cannot be permitted to proceed," the 3-member EC headed by Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi said in a 12-page order.
"Accordingly, the Commission hereby recommends under Article 324 of the Constitution read with Section 21 of the General Clauses Act, 1897,…to the President that she may be pleased to rescind the notification of March 12 calling upon the elected members of Jharkhand Legislative Assembly to elect two members to the Council of States," it said.
While Rajya Sabha elections have been countermanded in the past, this is the first time that such a step has been taken on account of vitiation of the election process because of money power.
The Commission`s decision came after a day-long meeting to inquire into the source of the huge cash seizures made by Income Tax authorities in Ranchi on Friday morning.
The order came following complaints by several political parties to the EC over use of money power and horse trading in these polls.
As per a report from the Returning Officer of Jharkhand, the EC found that of 81 members of the state assembly (one seat being vacant), 79 cast their votes while three voters Vishnu Bhaiya (of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha), K.N. Tripathi (of Indian National Congress) and Suresh Pashwan (of Rashtriya Janata Dal) showed their ballot papers to persons other than their respective party agents, violating the prescribed voting procedure, the EC said.
"This raises a strong suspicion that the votes of the above-mentioned three MLAs may have been influenced by the alleged horse trading about which strong apprehensions had been raised by Gurudas Das Gupta, Babu Lal Marandi and Sharad Yadav", it said.
The report of the Returning Officer was followed by another representation to the EC submitted by five Left parties in Jharkhand, namely, CPI, CPI(M), Forward Bloc, RSP and Marxist Coordination Committee, stating that huge money was being spent by some candidates to buy votes in the Rajya Sabha election and requesting the Commission to intervene immediately in the matter and stop the election process.
The EC action comes in the wake of cash seizure of Rs 2.15 crore from a vehicle belonging to the brother of one of the independent candidates R K Agarwal on the outskirts of Ranchi on Friday morning ahead of the RS poll.
Further enquiries by the EC in Jharkhand revealed that "prima facie, the source of the cash found in the vehicle is unexplained and is liable for seizure".
"The person carrying the cash Sudhanshu Tripathy stated that the cash was handed over to him by Soumitra Sah, son-in-law of R K Agarwal. The same was to be handed over to a person named Khandelwal, the owner of a Ford Ikon showroom at Ranchi and the vehicle under reference is in the name of Suresh Kumar Agarwal, brother of R.K. Agarwal and the the cash found appears to be without clear source and efforts are on to detect its real source", the EC said.
Veteran lawyer and BJP MP Ram Jethmalani said the EC, by countermanding the RS elections in Jharkhand, has "set up an excellent precedent" while his party colleague Yashwant Sinha said he was happy with the EC decision as Rajya Sabha polls "have been a happy hunting ground for money bags".
CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta said the election laws should be amended and state financing should be there for the general elections, for state elections. As for RS elections, there should be no secret voting. Voting should be open".
The report of Jharkhand Chief Electoral Officer to the EC said the Income Tax authorites "received information from a reliable source late on Friday night of 29th March, 2012, that cash would be transported from Jamshedpur to Ranchi for distribution in connection with the election.
Therefore, with the help of the district police authorities, a picket was placed on Jamshedpur Ranchi highway (NH-33) at Rampur Haat to check the movement of suspicious vehicles.
At around 6.30 am today, an Innova Car bearing Jharkhand registration number was nabbed with a person named Sudhanshu Tripathy carrying unaccounted cash to the tune of Rs 2.15 crore for the purpose of distribution in connection with the election on behalf of R.K. Agarwal, an independent candidate in the election.
The cash was being carried by Tripathy who is an employee of Shah Sponge and Power Limited having its offices at Chaibasa and Jamshedpur.
The Jharkhand CEO`s report, on which the EC acted, also said that apart from the intercepted vehicle, there was information about two more vehicles carrying unaccounted cash following the Innova from Jamshedpur but they went back to Jamshedpur along with the alleged cash after noticing that the Innova had been intercepted by the authorites.
"The cash in the subsequent two vehicles was reportedly handed over at the residence of Prakash Khemani at Jamshedpur.
A search action has been initiated at the residence of Khemani and surveys are being conducted at the office premises of Khemani and Shah Sponge and Power Limited at Jamshedpur with the authorization of search issued by the Commissioner of Income Tax, Jamshedpur", the EC said.
The Rajya Sabha election for the two seats in Jharkhand was necessitated on account of the expiry of term of Surendrajeet Singh Ahluwalia and Mabel Rebello who are due to retire on April 2.
For filling up the two vacancies, five candidates filed their nominations including Pravin Kumar Singh of Jharkhand Vikash Morcha, Pradip Kumar Balmuchu of Congress, Sanjiv Kumar of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and two independents Pawan Kumar Dhoot and Raj Kumar Agarwal.
Ahead of the polls, Gurudas Dasgupta, sent a representation to the EC, citing media reports "on strong and tangible apprehensions about horse trading" to garner votes of vulnerable MLAs".
A day later on March 27, Babu Lal Marandi, Member of Parliament and former chief minister of Jharkhand, called on the Commission with a delegation and presented a memorandum expressing similar concerns.
Marandi`s letter was followed by another from JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav who also spoke of the possibility of use of money power in the elections.
Taking note of these apprehensions, the Commission on March 27 instructed the Chief Secretary of Jharkhand and other authorities concerned to keep a strict watch on the situation and prevent any such incident.