New Delhi: In an administrative, inter-departmental message that is politically loaded, the Election Commission has received a letter from the Revenue Department where the latter has insisted its enforcement actions are always ‘neutral’, ‘impartial’, ‘non-discriminatory’ and regardless of the affiliation of the politician whose premises are searched.
The Revenue Department comprises the Income Tax Department, Enforcement Directorate and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence as its executive arms that deal with financial crimes.
Throwing the ball back at the court of the EC, the department urged it to share “specific information” about illicit money used in the electoral process.
It all began when the Election Commission in a letter to Revenue Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey on Sunday “strongly advised” that any action by its agencies during the election time should be “neutral” and “non-discriminatory”. The EC said its officials should be informed about actions (such as a raid).
That, in turn, was preceded by allegations by several opposition parties led by the Congress that the Narendra Modi government was misusing state mechanism to settle political scores in the election season.
The reply of the Revenue Department to the EC has the potential of being used by the ruling party BJP in its reaction to the likes of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s allegation.
In response, Pandey has written to the EC: “We understand the words ‘neutral’, ‘impartial’ and ‘non-discriminatory’ mean that we must act as and when information is available against anyone, irrespective of political affiliation. This is precisely the practice that the department follows and will continue to do so.”
“Since it is the responsibility of the Election Commission as also of the revenue agencies to check and eventually eliminate the use of unaccounted money in election, we would also like to urge the Election Commission to advise its field officers involved in the enforcement of the model code of conduct to take immediate enforcement action at their end under the election and other appropriate laws, if they come across any specific information about the use of illicit money in electoral processes. They may also if deemed fit, pass on the information confidentially to the Income Tax department for taking further necessary action,” Pandey wrote in the letter.
The applicability of the model code of conduct since 10 March notwithstanding, the I-T department carried out a plethora of raids at the premises of politicians and their aides. Fifty-five raids were conducted by the agencies of the Finance Ministry since the aforementioned date.
The EC letter dated Sunday said that while enforcement actions during the election period may be conducted ruthlessly to curb blatant electoral malpractices, such actions ought to be absolutely neutral, impartial and non-discriminatory.
“The department fully agrees with the observation that there is a need to conduct operations ruthlessly to contain this malpractice. Before such operations are undertaken, there has to be information and actionable intelligence available with Income Tax authorities so that they can act in the matter. As a rule, we always follow that practice,” the Revenue Department replied.
This Lok Sabha election spans to seven phases beginning 11 April. The results will be out on 23 May. The Income Tax department has, meanwhile, raided locations in Madhya Pradesh on Sunday and in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in the recent past.