Amid continuing Income Tax Department raids on persons considered close to opposition parties, Union Finance Ministry has told the Election Commission that enforcement actions by its revenue department are always "neutral", "impartial" and "non-discriminatory" irrespective of political affiliation, sources said. Replying to a letter from the Election Commission, the Revenue Department in a letter dated April 8 asked the poll panel to share "specific information" with the Income Tax I-T department about illicit money in the electoral process.
The Election Commission in its letter to Revenue Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey had on April 7 "strongly advised" the department that any action by its enforcement agencies during the election time should be "neutral" and "non-discriminatory" and officials of the poll panel should be kept in the loop about such actions. The EC's advice came in the backdrop of the Income Tax Department's raids in Madhya Pradesh on Sunday and in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh in the recent past on opposition politicians and people connected to them.
Since the Model Code of Conduct for the general elections came into force on March 10, the I-T Department has carried out several raids on political leaders and their associates, which the opposition has dubbed a misuse of central agencies during poll season. In its response, sources said, Pandey wrote to the poll panel saying, "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".
The Revenue Department, in its letter, also urged the Election Commission to advise its field officers to take "immediate action" if they come across any specific information about the use of illicit money in the electoral process.
"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 Income Tax department for taking further necessary action," Pandey wrote in the letter. The Income Tax Department, Enforcement Directorate and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence are the executive arms of the Revenue Department dealing with financial crimes.
There have been nearly 55 raids in the recent past by agencies under the Finance Ministry. The poll panel's letter on Sunday came amid allegations that the government was using the agencies to target rival parties in the election season.
The Election Commission had on Sunday said that enforcement actions during the election period, even when conducted ruthlessly with a view to curbing this blatant electoral malpractice, should 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 said. The seven-phase Lok Sabha election starts from April 11 and counting will be held on May 23.
(With inputs from agencies.)