A protest erupted in Madurai, Tamil Nadu after reports of a major security breach at the Madurai Medical College campus came in public view. A woman Tehsildar along with three of her aides reportedly entered the counting centre of the Madurai Parliamentary constituency without security clearance to access poll-related documents which were kept in a room.
She allegedly stayed in the room for three and a half hours before allegedly taking out the documents.
The incident came to the forefront when a Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate, Su. Venkatesan was alerted that the officers allegedly entered the room illegally and took out documents for photocopying. The room contained voter turnout details and other poll-related documents submitted by Presiding Officers of all polling stations in the Madurai West Assembly segment.
According to sources, technically, the strongroom where the Electronic Voting Machines (EMVs) and Voter-verified Paper Audit Trail units are kept is out of bounds for officials.
However, soon candidates of other political parties, independents and their representatives began gathering in front of the Madurai Medical College and did not disperse unless District Election Officer S. Natarajan reached the spot.
Mr Venkatesan, who reviewed the CCTV footage with a few other candidates, confirmed that the Tahsildar and other officials entered the room around 3.15 pm, “She was accompanied by three male officers. Two of them took documents outside for photocopying and returned later. They were in the room till 6.15 pm,” he said. A lady police officer, who noticed them, detained them in the room for more than 40 minutes as she was unconvinced by their explanation. “Later, officials from the Collectorate arrived and convinced the police to release them,” he said.
He confirmed that out of the six rooms in which documents related to the six Assembly segments were kept, only the one related to Madurai West was unsealed.
K. David Annadurai, the AMMK candidate, said the breach raised serious doubts about the three-tier security mechanism. “The election officials should conduct a detailed inquiry to convince us that they were not favouring the ruling party,” he said.
“What angered opposition candidates and people was the long delay in a response from the collector’s office despite having evidence, including CCTV footage, of the major security breach. The complainants also cited evidence that the officer had taken out some documents from the building and taken photocopies outside. It had taken four hours for the district administration to finally reply,” a senior police officer, who was present there, said.
However, after objections were raised from all major opposition party candidates and cadres gathered outside the compound, the district collector and the officer in charge of elections, S Natarajan, ordered an inquiry and suspended the woman officer, Sambooranam.