EC defends issue of notice to three Karnataka ministers

"We act according to statutory provisions and rules. All the cases (against the three ministers) have to be examined individually and on their merit. So we have to take one step at a time. We should not judge or pre-judge anyone as that would not be fair," Chief Election Commissioner Navin B Chawla said. He was responding to reporters' queries on the EC's recent showcause notice to mining magnates -- Tourism Minister G Janardhana Reddy and his brother Revenue Minister G Karunakara Reddy -- and their associate Health Minister B Sreeramulu.

The EC action came after Karnataka Governor H R Bhardwaj last month forwarded a petition by Congress MLC K C Kondaiah seeking disqualification, charging that as ministers, there was a conflict of interest with them having business interests in mining in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. "We got a reference from the governor and whenever we get a reference from the president or governor in relation to office of profit then it is standard procedure on our part to issue a show cause notice asking what do you have to say. That has been sent and I think its returnable by 15th of this month. We will see what they have to say," Chawla said.
 
Denying that they come under the office of profit clause, Karunakara Reddy claimed there was "a pre-planned conspiracy by some to trouble them". He had also said they were consulting legal experts and would comply with the EC deadline for their replies. Chawla also cautioned state governments against withdrawing cases filed for violation of poll code.

"We will not permit any state government, by executive order, withdraw a case. If a case has been registered during elections on the behest of our machinery that case must find its finality in a court of law," he said. The full EC team was here to review the ground work for the next year's assembly polls in Tamil Nadu.

Expressing concern over use of 'money power' during polls, Election Commissioner S M Quraishi said, "Use of money power is becoming an increasing problem. We feel that Tamil Nadu particularly has this issue...we are keeping a close eye." On his part, Chawla stressed the need for a better reporting system for election expenditure of candidates and said the EC was formulating means for a "tighter" control.

"We are trying to develop the observation machinery so that we have a tighter control over expenditure and try to ensure it remains within the expenditure ceiling limits...we are going to monitor expenditure more closely than we had ever done before, not just in Tamil Nadu (where assembly polls are scheduled next year) but the whole country," Chawla said.

To a question on increasing the ceiling of election expenditure, he said it was for the Parliament to take a call on the matter. The EC was just "umpires" who are "given a ceiling limit and we have to see to it that the players play within the limit". Asked about possibility of early elections to Tamil Nadu Assembly, he said it was the practice of the EC to review the election preparedness in a state well ahead of the poll schedules.

Among the issues discussed with the district election officers and zonal IGs were 'paid news' and electoral rolls, Chawla said. Quraishi said observers had been given standing instructions asking them to take cognisance of news reports on issues like money power and take it as a complaint and "start moving".

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