The controversy over the disciplinary action initiated against the IAS officer who allegedly subjected the prime minister's chopper to a search in Odisha's Sambalpur, refuses to die down. Mohammad Mohsin, who was facing suspension, now only faces a ban on taking up election duties till further order after the Central Administrative Tribunal's (CAT) intervention.
He was deployed in Odisha as a general observer and suspended on 17 April for checking Modi's helicopter in Odisha's Sambalpur in "violation" of norms for dealing with SPG protectees.
However, the Election Commission's strict action against its general observer has opened a can of worms. Mohsin's crime was that he allegedly led a search party to search Prime Minister Narendra Modi's chopper upon landing in Odisha.
The Election Commission, on the PMO's complain, looked into the matter and found that the IAS officers violated its guidelines related to exceptions made for SPG protectees. The EC said it had issued a guideline in April 2014 and another extension to it in March 2019, which apparently mentioned that VIPs offered the protection of Special Protection Group are exempt from a search, which is otherwise mandatory for all private vehicles associated with political parties and politicians during poll season.
An order issued by the EC on Tuesday had said the general observer for Sambalpur, Mohammad Mohsin, acted in violation of existing instructions of EC.
"It has been laid down that SPG protectees are exempted from checking. He should have known the instruction being an observer. The reason for suspension is dereliction of duty," an EC source had then said. After the incident, the officer was attached to the Sambalpur headquarters. Later, he was attached with the chief electoral officer of Karnataka.
The order exempting SPG protectees, including the prime minister, was issued in April 2014, the poll body said. The Commission took the action against Mohsin on the basis of a report submitted by the district collector and deputy inspector general of police.
However, the EC's claim did not stop political parties from raising a hue and cry over the action initiated against Mohsin. The Congress party said, "An official was suspended by ECI for doing his job of inspecting vehicles. The rule cited governs the use of official vehicles for campaigning. It does not exempt the prime minister's vehicle from being searched. What is Modi carrying in the helicopter that he doesn't want India to see?"
AAP tweeted: "The chowkidar lives in his own protected shell! Is the Chowkidar trying to hide something?" The Congress party and several media reports argued that the guidelines quoted by the Election Commission to take action against Mohsin were non-existent.
Did Mohsin break rules?
There are two aspects to the claims floating around. On one hand is the Election Commission, which claims that the officer violated clear guidelines. However, the said guideline could not be found on the EC website or anywhere else in the public domain. NDTV claimed it has accessed the guidelines but no such exception was found listed. The instructions pertain to the prime minister's use of government vehicles during election campaigns, but mentions nothing about searches.
The CAT also maintained that during an election process while reasonable assurances of protection and security must be made available to SPG protectees, it cannot be said "they are eligible for anything and everything". While assessing the matter, CAT in Bengaluru, noted that precedents exist when the election officials have checked the vehicles of SPG protectees, including the Karnataka chief minister, and the current and previous Congress presidents.
"Election officials have checked private vehicles of [Karnataka] Chief Minister Shri [HD] Kumaraswamy more than once and no action followed... the Chief Minister of Odisha's vehicles were also checked," NDTV quoted CAT report as saying.
Mohsin, however, insisted he did not order a search of the prime minister's chopper. According to The Hindu, in his reply to the CAT, Mohsin's lawyer stated that he had neither ordered search of the helicopter nor had he asked to videograph the helicopter. Mohsin also said that he was not present at the helipad when the search and videographing took place. He claimed that the EC failed to pinpoint the exact violation nor did it provide him the copies of reports submitted by the district election officer and the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, based on which action was initiated against him. He claimed that the action against him was high-handed and aimed at humiliating him.
"The applicant [Mr. Mohsin] reasonably believes that this order was passed by the commission on extraneous considerations on a law-abiding officer with a view to humiliating him and also with a view to deriving political advantage in favour of a political party. The action of the commission is high-handed, mala fide and is not in good faith," the report in The Hindu quoted an excerpt from Mohsin's reply.
The tribunal noted that it was apparently the prime minister's security officials which complained about the officer ordering video recording of the chopper's landing. However, Mohsin argued that even if the landing was videographed and a search was requested, it did not amount to any insulting act that warrants action. "By videographing the helicopter, no insulting act was committed. If somebody strongly feels that somebody has been insulted, it indicates that there is something to be hidden. If somebody is irked for no fault of the officer performing his duty, he cannot be targeted by using the commission as a Election Observer’s presence may irk the prime minister and his party. As the prime minister of this country, he was required to voluntarily allow a search which would have enhanced his image. He should be a model to the other political parties and his own party members...,” Mohsin's application to CAT read.
Meanwhile, the EC revoked the suspension order and recommended disciplinary action against him.
Who is Mohsin?
Mohsin is a 1996-batch IAS officer of the Karnataka cadre, who has been working for the backward class welfare department under the Government of Karnataka since June 2016. He hails from Bihar's Patna where he completed his primary education from Mohammedan Anglo Arabic Senior Secondary School. He finished his graduation in Economics at Magadh University and subsequently attained a Masters of Commerce from the Patna University. He also holds an MBA from Karnataka State University. According to his LinkedIn profile, he was initially posted as an Sub-Divisional Magistrate and after that, took charge as the Deputy Commissioner in the district panchayat and the Department of Rural Development, going on to hold several positions in the Karnataka administration. However, what is remarkable is that Mohsin has been tacitly critical of the current dispensation at the Centre. Even though serving IAS officers generally refrain from making their political opinions known, Mohsin has frequently retweeted tweets and articles critical of the Narendra Modi government.
Also, this was not the first time that the officer attracted controversy.
According to The Hindu report from 2014, the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal on 11 December 2014 had ordered issuance of a bailable warrant against Mohsin, serving as Commissioner for Public Instruction at the time, for failing to respond to notices issued to him on a contempt proceeding.
The order was passed on a complaint by Anusuya KH, an assistant teacher with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Ballari, alleging that the three public servants, including Mohsin had failed to obey a direction by the tribunal in June this year in favour of her transfer plea.
Earlier in October 2011, Mohsin was pulled up by the Gulbarga high court circuit bench for "falsely encouraging an aggrieved person to have hopes and aspirations which were ultimately dashed because of the legal position". According to The Times of India, the matter related to the request of a government employee's son for appointment on compassionate grounds following the death of his father. The person was found ineligible to take up the government job on legal scrutiny, whereas the concerned administrative officers had made a case for his appointment.
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Updated Date: Apr 26, 2019 21:48:38 IST