Report on EVM related accident in Karimganj, action taken against the Presiding Officer

New Delhi: An unfortunate incident occurred on April 1, 2021, with Polling Operations Team 149- Indira MV School of Vidhan Sabha constituency No.1 Ratabari (SC). The voting team consisted of one presiding officer and three polling staff. He was accompanied by police personnel including a police constable and a home guard.

After the polling was over at 6.00 pm, the polling party was returning in a convoy led by an armed scott led by Police Sector Officer ABSI Luhit Gohain. The weather was bad on 01 April and mud was spread on the roads due to heavy rains.

National Highway 8 is the only main road from the remote areas of the district to Karimganj. Since the polling was on that day and polling was completed at 1800 hrs, around 1300 vehicles were plying on the only highway as all polling operations teams were returning to Karimganj after 1800 hrs. Along with bad weather, this has also led to unprecedented congestion on the highway.

When the above mentioned polling party came near Neelam Bazar, the vehicle which was allotted by the Transport Cell of the Election Branch of the DC office and in which the polling party was on board, went bad on April 01, 2021 at around 2100.

Due to traffic congestion and prevailing weather conditions, the team broke away from its convoy. The team got down from the vehicle and interacted with Section Officer Mr. Ajay Sutradhar on his phone and informed him about it. When the sector officials were engaged in arranging an alternative vehicle, the polling operation team decided to arrange a vehicle by itself so that it could quickly reach the material reception center as there were EVMs polled under their patronage.

At around 2120 hrs the polling crew gave voice to a vehicle passing by and they rode with their EVMs and other belongings without checking the owner of that vehicle bearing number SS-10B-0022. As reported by the polling operation team, they reached Kanyasil of Karimganj around 2200 hrs and their vehicle slowed down due to traffic.

When the speed of his vehicle slowed down, a crowd of about 50 people surrounded him and started throwing stones at him. The mob also started abusing them and stopped their vehicle from passing there. When he spoke to the leader of the mob, he replied that the vehicle belonged to Shri Krishnendu Paul, a candidate contesting the neighboring constituency and he alleged that EVMs were being taken for tampering.

He then realized that something was wrong and cautioned the sector officer. However, by then a large crowd had gathered which attacked him and he was also taken hostage along with the EVMs placed in the vehicle by the mob, alleging that EVMs were being taken for molestation.

Immediately after receiving information about the incident, the DEO of Karimganj along with the SP of Karimganj left for the incident site and reached there at 2220 hrs. Apart from this, the ownership of the vehicle was traced and it was found registered in the name of Mrs. Madhumita Paul, wife of the contesting candidate of Patharkandi Assembly Constituency No. 2, Mr. Krishnendu Paul. On reaching the scene, it was seen that the mob was dragging the polling party and was about to attack them.

The crowd had turned violent and had damaged the vials of the vehicle by throwing stones. While throwing stones, the SP of Karimganj sustained a minor injury to the throat and resorted to blank firing to disperse the crowd. In this uproar, the first polling officer was found missing, the EVM and the rest of the polling party were safely taken out of the area and brought under the control of the DEO at 2320 hrs.

Upon investigation, the polled EVMs manufactured from BU, CU and VVPAT were found sealed without any damage. All items have been stored in strong form

The first voting officer remained missing till the morning of April 02, 2021, which was hidden in the nearby bushes and the search operation continued throughout the night. Due to this there was a delay of few hours in sending this report.

In this regard, the presiding officer was issued a show cause notice for the violation of the transport protocol. Subsequently, the PO and three other officers have been suspended. However, as an extra precaution if the EVMs are sealed, it has been decided to re-vote on 149 Indira MV School, Ratbari (SC), Vidhan Sabha constituency. A report is also being sought from the Special Supervisor.