New Delhi/Ranchi, March 30 (IANS) Amid reports of horse trading in the Rajya Sabha polls, the Election Commission Friday stopped the counting of votes for two seats from Jharkhand after money was seized from a car belonging to an independent candidate's relative and recommended to President Pratibha Patil that the poll notification be cancelled.
The income tax department in Jharkhand had earlier seized Rs.2.15 crore from an Innova car coming to Ranchi from Jamshedpur on the outskirts of the city, suspected to be pay offs for getting a favourable vote from some legislators.
The poll panel, in a late night statement, said it was 'satisfied' that that biennial election process for two Rajya Sabha seats had been 'seriously vitiated' and consequently, it recommended to the president to rescind the notification for the elections.
'....the commission is satisfied that the current election process for Rajya Sabha election from Jharkhand has been seriously vitiated and cannot be permitted to proceed,' it said in the 12-page statement, adding it recommended the president may rescind the election notification dated March 12, 2012.
According to sources in the I-T department, the vehicle from which the money was seized belonged to the brother of an independent candidate R.K. Agrawal. Sources said the names of a few legislators was found written on a piece of paper recovered from the seized vehicle. Agrawal, however, denied that the money belonged to him.
The department officials also sent a report on the raids to the panel, following which it took action.
In its report, the department officials also noted that two other cars were following the intercepted car and these too were carrying cash. On noticing that the first car had been intercepted, the two other cars returned to Jamshedpur.
The I-T sleuths traced the cars to the residence of a Jamshedpur businessman and soon after conducted raids on two businessmen in the steel city, said an official.
'Acting on an intelligence input, we raided the Innova car. Around Rs.2.15 crore was seized from it. The EC had alerted the income tax department about horse trading for the Rajya Sabha polls,' an official told IANS on condition of anonymity.
The IT sleuths raided the houses and offices of Prakash Khemani and Suresh Kumar Agrawal, brother of R.K.Agrawal. The officials declined to divulge details of the raids.
The seized car belongs to Suresh Kumar Agrawal. The other two cars were traced to Prakash Khemani's residence, sources said.
'We are investigating the case related to seizure of money,' Ajit Srivastav, director of IT, told reporters.
Polling for two Rajya Sabha seats took place in the Jharkhand assembly Friday.
Five candidates, including two independents, were in the fray. The five candidates are Sanjiv Kumar of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Pradeep Balmuchu of the Congress, Praveen Kumar Singh of the Jharkhand Vikash Morcha-Prajatantrik, and two independents - R.K. Agarwal and Pawan Kumar Dhut.
The EC statement said 79 of the 81 legislators voted in the polls and three of them -- Vishnu Bhaiya of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), K.N. Tripathi of Congress, and Suresh Paswan of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) -- showed their ballots to people who were not their respective party polling agents, thus violating the polling process.
This had resulted in the suspicion that there could be pay offs, the EC said.
Senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said in Ranchi: 'The EC should countermand the polls. We welcome the EC move to put the counting on hold.'
Earlier, the Election Commission asked the returning officers of the Jharkhand and Uttarakhand assemblies not to start counting the votes scheduled for 5 p.m.
The EC asked the officers to submit detailed and comprehensive reports of the conduct of polls with special reference to any untoward incident immediately after voting was over.
Besides asking the returning officers not to start counting the votes till asked to, the poll panel also asked the election officials not to declare the results of the Rajya Sabha polls till the commission gives its nod.
In its late night statement, the EC also noted that there had been several complaints ahead of the polls from Left parties and state parties on alleged horse trading for the Rajya Sabha polls.
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