NEW DELHI: Indicting Haryana Assembly secretary in the ink row during Rajya Sabha poll, Election Commission today recommended disciplinary action against him for concealment of facts and negligence while ordering lodging of an FIR against "unknown persons".
The EC's "unprecedented" action against a senior poll official will, however, not affect the election result which saw BJP-supported independent candidate Subhash Chandra defeating Congress-backed R K Anand.
After EC action against R K Nandal, who was the Returning Officer for the poll, sources said the election issue can be settled through an election petition as the poll body has no role once the election is over.
A row had erupted after votes of 12 MLAs of Congress and allies were declared invalid for marking their preferences with a pen other than the one officially supplied, prompting the Congress to allege foul play.
The Commission held Nandal, the Secretary, Haryana Legislative Assembly, guilty of "concealment of material facts" from EC and "wilful non-compliance" of its lawful directions and said the proceedings against him should be completed within a period of six months.
"...In the Commission's view, this is a serious case of lack of supervisory control and negligence in performance of duty that an unauthorized pen was found inside the voting compartment and another unauthorised pen was surreptitiously used for marking ballot papers which led to rejection of 12 ballot papers on that count," the EC said.
The EC has written to the Haryana Chief Secretary recommending strong disciplinary action against Nandal.
"The Commission has, therefore, decided that disciplinary action should be taken against Shri R. K.Nandal, Secretary, Haryana Legislative Assembly Secretariat-cum-Returning Officer for Biennial Election to Council of States from Haryana-2016 for his aforesaid lapses and lack of supervisory control.
"These proceedings should be completed within a period of six months and a final decision on the outcome of disciplinary proceedings should be taken by the competent authority after consulting the Election Commission," the EC said adding that the CEO, Haryana has also been directed to assist the state in this matter.
In a letter to the state Chief Electoral Officer, the EC said that an FIR under various sections of IPC and The Representation of the People Act be registered against unknown persons to ensure those behind the incident be identified and booked.
Directing the CEO to lodge the FIR, it said "the persons on election duty or otherwise, whose conduct has resulted in the alleged change of pen/ink leading to rejection of twelve ballot papers, can be identified and booked under the law".
An EC official said it was an "unprecedented" action against any senior poll official.
After the declaration of result on June 11, 2016, the Commission received a complaint two days later from Anand and another from Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, alleging gross irregularities in the polling process.
They alleged that the violet sketch pen (authorised article supplied by the Returning Officer for marking preferences on ballot papers) was fraudulently replaced with a different pen, during the course of polling process by someone and after some time the original pen was restored there.
They also alleged that it was done with a nefarious design to ensure that 12 ballot papers marked with the replaced pen were rejected at the time of counting.
Acting on their complaints, the Commission directed the CEO, Haryana, who also acted as the Commission's Observer, to personally enquire into the matter and who after examination of all available records and recordings evidence had submitted a detailed enquiry report to EC.
The Commission has noted that the RO is overall in-charge of all election related activities inside the polling station at an election to Rajya Sabha under Representation of People Act, 1951 and polling station premises and took a serious view of the lapses on his part.
"In the Commission's view, this is a seriouscase of lack of supervisory control and negligence in performance of duty that an unauthorized pen was found inside the voting compartment and another unauthorised pen was surreptitiously used for marking ballot papers which led to rejection of 12 ballot papers on that count.
"It assumes serious proportions if seen with the fact that 12 ballot papers had been rejected on the ground of voting preferences being marked with a pen other than the one officially supplied," it said.
Following the 'ink controversy' in the Haryana Rajya Sabha elections, a working group set up by the Election Commission has recommended various options, including introduction of a special pen, to avoid repeat of such disputes in future polls.
Soon after the controversy erupted, the Commission had set up a working group of officials to recommend measures to plug the loopholes.