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EC censures Amarinder, Ajit Jogi
Cong told to pay for air travel
R. Suryamurthy and S. Satyanarayanan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 24
The Election Commission (EC) today “censured” Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh and former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi of violating the model code of conduct during the recent Assembly poll.

Unconvinced by the explanation of Congress President Sonia Gandhi to use Chhattisgarh helicopter from Chennai to Sriperumbudur, the EC directed the Congress that it must reimburse either from its own funds or by recovering from Mr Jogi the total costs of seven flights undertaken by him and party president in the state government aircraft.

The commission’s order said it was reluctant to take the extreme step of suspending or withdrawing the recognition of the Congress as a national party, in view of the repeated assurances by the party to adhere to the model code of conduct and that the violations arose for the first time.

Referring to the use of the Chhattisgarh Government chopper by Ms Gandhi from Chennai to Sriperumbudur and back on October 10 last, the commission said the explanation of the Congress that it was done on the advice of the SPG for security reasons to attend an official function might sound convincing from the point of view of the security of the person concerned.

“However, one fails to understand why the helicopter of the state of Chhattisgarh was used for such a flight from Chennai to Sriperumbudur in the state of Tamil Nadu. The security of Ms Gandhi was the concern of the SPG and the government of the state where she resided or which she visited,” it maintained.

“No explanation has been given by the Congress or by Mr Jogi as to how the resources and property of the Chhattisgarh Government were or could be used for the benefit of Ms Gandhi for work totally unconnected with the functioning of the state government. Unless Mr Jogi considered that the resources and the property of the state formed part of his own fiefdom which he could use according to his own whims and fancies,” the order said.

The EC, passing its order on the violation of the code of conduct by Capt Amarinder Singh and Mr Jogi said, “The commission strongly deprecates this undesirable conduct on part of a high political functionary occupying the post of Chief Minister of a state for achieving partisan ends”.

As regards to Capt Amarinder Singh’s plea that the commission’s instructions were shown to him only after the issue of a show-cause notice, the EC order said such pleas were “totally unacceptable”.

The order said Capt Amarinder Singh “very unambiguously combined `official’ work and electioneering. The explanation given by Capt Amarinder Singh that he used the aircraft for travelling to Bhopal, Jabalpur and Gwalior from Indore on the ground that the aircraft was to return empty to Chandigarh and the PPCC has paid for the hiring charge of the aircraft to the Punjab Government skirts the issue which is that the model code prohibits combining any official visit with electioneering work.

“The flight plan for the aircraft circulated to the ATCs of Indore, Bhopal, Jabalpur and Gwalior clearly indicates that the programmes of the Chief Minister was prepared in advance and it leaves no doubt in anybody’s mind that the official visit was combined with political work from the onset of the journey. The commission is inclined to believe that the official work at Indore was only a pretext to undertake the journey on an official aircraft and to combine electioneering work as the subsequent visit confirm,” the order said.

The plea by the Chief Minister that the cost of journey had been reimbursed to the state government by the PPCC “cannot absolve him of the charge of violating the model code of conduct and thereby disturbing the level playing field amongst political parties”, the order said.

The commission directed the party to reimburse either from its own funds or by recovering from Capt Amarinder Singh and Mr Jogi, the total cost of propulsion, including taxes, interest and other connected expenditure incurred by the state governments in undertaking the flights.


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