Mushtaq Khan, an employee with a private firm, returned dejected from Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi's office. His request for a recommendation letter for his daughter's school admission was kept on hold because of the model code of conduct, which came into effect on March 5. He was asked to come after the elections.
It's the same situation at Milind Deora's office. The Congress MP from South Mumbai has been turning away people who come with similar requests. "The code of conduct makes sanctioning work from MPLADs or writing letters, recommending work for people and NGOs impossible," Deora told dna.
Does the code of conduct restrict politicians from issuing recommendation letters to authorities for admissions, jobs, medical treatment, train reservations and speedy issuance of tehsildar's certificates? The opinion is divided. Some say it is not allowed while others issue letters on their own letter heads instead of using the official ones.
"We can issue recommendation letters to hospitals, schools and even to tehsildars. I am giving letters for medical treatment. However, we cannot release funds for works," said Sanjay Nirupam, who is seeking re-election from the Mumbai North constituency. Minister of health and family welfare Suresh Shetty agrees. "There are several restrictions, but issuing recommendation letters is allowed," he said.
The model code of conduct on the Election Commission of India website states: "All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities which are corrupt practices and offences such as bribing of voters." It further states: "Ministers and other authorities shall not sanction grants/payments out of discretionary funds from the time elections are announced."
Chief electoral officer for Maharashtra Nitin Gadre did not respond to calls and messages. However, another official said, "Issuing recommendation letters amounts to violating norms."
Surendra Jondhale, professor of politics at Mumbai University describes it as a kind of favouritism. "Letters of ministers and MPs carry a lot of weightage if they are written on a regular paper. Giving such letters is a clever tactic to impress voters and therefore, it is a clear violation of the model code of conduct," he told dna.
A senior railway official said they get a lot of letters for ticket reservations, but if they are not on official letter heads, they are dumped into the dustbin. School principals admit that there is added pressure as they get numerous recommendation letters. "But we cannot grant admission to everyone," said a principal of a south Mumbai school.