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Lok Sabha elections 2024 | 48-vote case: Police point fingers at returning officer

Updated on: 12 June,2024 06:55 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Diwakar Sharma , Shirish Vaktania |

As cops blame RO for delay in filing FIR, candidates contemplate legal action

Lok Sabha elections 2024 | 48-vote case: Police point fingers at returning officer

Ravindra Waikar leaving from NESCO Centre after winning (right) Amol Kirtikar’s wife, supporters requesting cops to enter the counting centre in Goregaon. File Pics/Satej Shinde

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Lok Sabha elections 2024 | 48-vote case: Police point fingers at returning officer

The bureaucratic delay in registering the FIR related to vote counting controversy that was stoked at NESCO Centre in Mumbai has kept the police on tenterhooks. They have accused the returning officer (RO) of not cooperating in the matter by not sharing the CCTV footage of the counting hall where a relative of the winning candidate was reportedly seen using a mobile phone, which was banned by the ECI.
The RO stated they received a letter from Mumbai police on June 11 requesting CCTV footage and asking for a complainant to register an FIR. The controversy began on June 4 when Mangesh Pandilkar, a relative of Shiv Sena candidate Ravindra Waikar, was seen using a mobile phone at NESCO Centre during vote counting. Surinder Mohan Arora from Bharat Jan Aadhar Party immediately reported this to Vanrai police and requested an FIR.

Shinde Sena candidate, Ravindra Waikar and (right) Shiv Sena (UBT) candidate Amol Kirtikar at the counting station. Pics/Satej Shinde
Shinde Sena candidate, Ravindra Waikar and (right) Shiv Sena (UBT) candidate Amol Kirtikar at the counting station. Pics/Satej Shinde

mid-day possesses a two-page complaint signed by Arora and another candidate, Bharat Khimji Shah from the Hindu Samaj Party. Vanrai police confiscated Pandilkar’s phone, but no Call Data Records (CDR) or Subscriber Data Records (SDR) have been retrieved yet. Though Arora’s statement has been recorded, the FIR is yet to be registered. Arora said, “An officer at Vanrai police station told me that the senior inspector is not available, and he cannot undersign the documents without him.”

Candidates like Amol Kirtikar and Arora are considering approaching the high court to file an election petition. Kirtikar, who lost by 48 votes, said, “The delay in registration of the FIR can lead to tampering with the evidence.” The Mumbai police have confiscated the mobile phone, while the RO holds the CCTV footage.

Mumbai police speak

A senior officer from Mumbai police told mid-day that the counting hall falls under RO Vandana Suryavanshi’s jurisdiction. “The incident occurred at NESCO Centre, which had three-layer security. Cellphone use was banned by the ECI. We need the CCTV footage to investigate,” said the officer. Regarding political contacts on the confiscated phone, the officer stated, “We’ve switched off the phone for further action if the FIR is registered. We haven’t retrieved any call records yet.”

When asked about the delay in FIR registration, the officer explained, “The jurisdiction is crucial. The complainant should be from the RO’s office for a fair investigation.” “We’re being cautious as it involves the Election Commission. Once the FIR is filed, we can retrieve call records and analyse the phone,” the officer added. The officer also mentioned that the enquiry report will be submitted to either the RO or the Collector after registering the FIR.

Returning officer speak

During a discussion with mid-day, Returning Officer Vandana Suryawanshi confirmed that Mumbai police requested the CCTV footage on June 11 and asked for a complainant to register a case. “We will send the CCTV footage for investigation. There are nearly 77 CCTV cameras,” said Suryawanshi. Regarding deputing a person to file the FIR, she added, “Mumbai police already have a complaint from Arora and Shah. If this is insufficient, they can file a suo motu case and start an investigation.”

Candidates speak

Complainant Arora said, “It was a major security failure. How was Pandilkar using a mobile phone? I will take this matter to court and file an election petition by the end of this month.” Shiv Sena (UBT) Leader Amol Kirtikar said, “I lost the election due to manipulation by the election officer. I was winning by 651 votes, but suddenly the numbers dropped. I will check the CCTV footage and file an election petition to challenge the recount.”

Kirtikar continued, “The counting agent should be a local voter, but the police didn’t verify this. Instead of filing an FIR, the police and election commission are delaying the process. We demanded the CCTV footage to check for manipulation. Many non-locals entered using fake IDs, which should be investigated.” He also pointed out, “After counting 19 machines, counting stopped for two hours during which manipulation likely occurred. Postal ballots were brought in a loose format, not sealed boxes. We need to check these ballots on CCTV as well.”

For the past three days, mid-day has been attempting to reach out to Shiv Sena leader Ravindra Waikar, but there has been no response to calls and messages. Upon contact, his PA claimed he was unaware of Waikar’s current location.

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