On 14 March, as the counting of votes for the Lok Sabha by-polls in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur constituency were underway, Rajeev Rautela, the area’s district magistrate, became the subject of controversy after preventing the media from reporting the results. After the completion of eight rounds of counting, Gorakhpur’s electoral officers had only intimated the media about the numbers from the first round. The reason for this delay was Rautela—the district magistrate claimed that the election observers had not signed it yet. Later, Rautela not only barred the media from entering the counting area, he forbade the electoral officers from providing updates to the media. This was done despite the fact that the reporters present held valid passes from the election commission—media persons were asked to maintain a distance from the counting area, which had been cordoned off by curtains. The issue began to be reported widely, and opposition leaders who caught wind of it began to protest in the state’s legislative assembly. It soon became evident that the Samajwadi Party was consolidating a lead over the Bharatiya Janata Party in Gorakhpur—the bastion of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath.
Rautela, who is known to have close relations with Adityanath, is no stranger to controversies. Both Rautela and Adityanath are pahadi Kshatriyas—they hail from Uttarakhand and belong to the Rajput caste. Rautela is a Provincial Civil Service officer—a civil service cadre under the Uttar Pradesh government—from the 1982 batch, who was promoted to the Indian Administrative Services in 2002. Shortly after Adityanath was elected to power in March last year, he appointed Rautela as the district magistrate of Gorakhpur, from where he has been elected a member of parliament five times since 1989. In December last year, while hearing a public interest litigation plea regarding illegal mining, the Allahabad High Court recommended the suspension of the district magistrate for his complicity in the act—yet the state government issued no such order against Rautela.
The facts of the case are these: in 2015, Maqsood, a resident of Rampur district, lodged a PIL in the Allahabad High Court in relation to illegal mining activities along the district’s Koshi River. During the hearing in August that year, the court found that mining activities were being conducted without any necessary licenses, and noted that all “authorities of the district,” including the district magistrate, had “chosen to remain blind spectators to the serious violation of law.” In the same order, the court directed the Rampur district magistrate to “forthwith take steps to put an end to the illegal activities,” and directed the state government to “initiate disciplinary proceedings against whoever is found to be involved in the non-performance of their duties and obligations.”