The Election Commission today clarified that the “returning officer appointed by the poll panel is the final authority under the law” to decide on recounting at Nandigram Assembly constituency, where BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari defeated chief minister Mamata Banerjee by a slender margin.

The commission declared that Adhikari had won by a margin of 1,956 votes. Trinamul Congress demanded recounting but it was turned down by the EC following which the party said she will move court against the EC’s decision and alleged that the the returning officer had refused as he was under pressure.

“Whether it is nomination, polling or counting, the RO acts strictly in accordance with the extant electoral laws, instructions and guidelines of the ECI,” the poll panel said in a statement.

Taking cognisance of media reports on alleged threat to the life of the returning officer, the Election Commission said it has directed the state chief secretary to provide adequate security to the officer.

“The returning officer of an Assembly constituency performs statutory functions under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 in quasi-judicial capacity independently. Whether it is nomination, polling or counting, the RO acts strictly in accordance with the extant electoral laws, instructions and guidelines of the ECI,” the statement read.

The Commission said that when an application for recounting of votes is made the returning officer shall decide the matter and may allow the application in whole or in part or may reject it in its entirety if it appears to him to be frivolous or unreasonable.

The Commission further stated that after the counting in Nandigram constituency, the election agent of a particular candidate requested for recount, which was rejected by the returning officer, through a speaking order, on the basis of material facts available before him in accordance with the provisions of Rule 63, as above, and declared the result. In such a case, only legal remedy is to file an EP (election petition) before the high court, it added.

As per provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the decision of a returning officer can only be challenged through an election petition under section 80 of the Act. The Election Commission said, “Each counting table (in Nandigram) had one micro-observer. Their reports never indicated any impurity of counting process on their respective table.

The RO caused the entries of votes polled by each candidate after each round to be written on the display board which could be easily seen by the counting agents. No doubt was raised on the result of round-wise counting. This enabled the RO to proceed uninterruptedly with the counting of votes.”

It said that a copy of each of the results after each round was shared with all the counting agents. Refuting the allegations of malpractice, the Election Commission said “polling officers on ground perform in extremely competitive political environment diligently with full transparency and fairness and, therefore, attribution of any motive in such cases is not desirable.”