The Election Commission of India (ECI) has sought a report from the West Bengal government after the BJP submitted a written complaint alleging that the dole of Rs 50,000 announced for each of the 36,000 puja committees in the state is a gross violation of the Model Code of Conduct in place for the bypolls to three Assembly constituencies in the state.
The state Home Department has been asked to submit a detailed report in the matter.
Though the state government, which has already sent its reply to the poll panel, is tight-lipped, senior officials are of the opinion that the state government has not violated the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).
Highly-placed sources in the Home Department said that the announcement was made by the Chief Secretary, and not Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who is contesting the bypolls from the Bhowanipur Assembly constituency in Kolkata.
“According to the rules laid down by the Commission, in case of by-election, if a constituency is in a metropolitan city, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) will be in force in that constituency, and in case the constituency is in a district, then the MCC will be in force in the entire district. Following this rule, the MCC will be in force only in the Bhowanipur constituency in Kolkata and in the entire Murshidabad district as Samaserganj and Jangipur fall under that district,” a senior official of the Home Department said.
“During Banerjee’s meeting with the puja committees on Tuesday, no organiser from Bhowanipur or Murshidabad was invited. So, the question of giving money to them doesn’t arise,” the official said.
The state government officials, however, said that the Commission wants a detailed report on the basis of the complaint lodged by the BJP, but there is no mention of any kind of financial ex-gratia in the letter.
The controversy broke out after Chief Secretary H.K. Diwedi on Tuesday made an announcement that the state government will give ex-gratia of Rs 50,000 each to all the 36,000 puja committees of the state.
This is not new as last year also Banerjee had decided to give money to the puja organisers because of lack of sponsors due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year the announcement was made by the Chief Secretary after the Chief Minister held a meeting with the puja committee members.
Immediately after the announcement, the BJP in a letter to the Election Commission said that as many as 2,500 puja committees in Kolkata alone will receive the dole, which makes it clear that the goal is to appease the puja committees in the city as they play a big role in the polls.