JAMMU, Feb 16: After a high level review of preparations, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has decided to complete process for holding by-election to Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha seats by April 17. A notification for holding the by-polls was likely to be issued in the first week of March after review of law and order situation in seven districts that comprised two Lok Sabha seats of the Kashmir valley.
Top official sources told the Excelsior that Chief Election Commissioner Syed Nasim Ahmad Zaidi and Election Commissioners AK Joti and Om Prakash Rawat had a detailed review of preparedness for by-poll to two Parliamentary seats in Jammu and Kashmir including Srinagar and Anantnag with Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), J&K, Shantmanu.
The meeting reviewed all aspects of the situation including opinion of political parties, security scenario, preparation of electoral rolls etc after which the Election Commission is reported to have set April 17 as deadline for completion of election process in Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha seats, which had fallen vacant last year after the resignation of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti from Anantnag and former PDP leader Tariq Hamid Qarra from Srinagar seat.
Sources said entire electoral process for Srinagar Lok Sabha seat had to be completed before April 17 and in Anantnag Parliamentary constituency before July 4. As the State Government had earlier asked for clubbing both the elections, the EC would hold elections to both the seats jointly well before April 17 to meet the deadline. By-poll to Lok Sabha seat has to be conducted within six months of the seat being declared as vacant by the Speaker.
Sources said going by the deadline of April 17, the Election Commission could hold by-election to both the Parliamentary constituencies of the Kashmir valley in first week of April so that counting and declaration of results etc are completed well before the deadline.
A notification for the elections was likely to be issued in first week of March, they said.
However, they added, the Election Commission of India, taking into account the militancy related situation and law and order problem in the Valley especially South Kashmir, would hold another review of situation with top brass of civil and police administration of Jammu and Kashmir before issuing notification for the by-elections.
“The Election Commission wants to be sure on law and order front before announcing the election as it had in December deferred by-poll for Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency, which was scheduled to be held before January 3, 2017 taking into account the State Government request and the CEO J&K’s report that situation was not conducive in South Kashmir (in view of five month long summer unrest in the Valley) to hold the by-poll then,” sources said, adding that before going-in for by-polls to two sensitive and crucial Lok Sabha seats of Kashmir, the Election Commission again wants to ensure that the situation was conducive for holding free and fair election to both the seats.
The Election Commission has decided that there would be no fresh revision of electoral rolls for conduct of Parliamentary by-polls. The electoral rolls revised and published on January 10, 2017, would be used for holding by-poll to the two seats, they said.
On Panchayat elections, sources maintained that both Lok Sabha and Panchayat polls can’t be held simultaneously on the ground that Electronic voting Machines (EVMs) are used in Parliamentary polls while ballot papers have to be used in Panchayat polls as per the two separate Acts.
The Lok Sabha elections are conducted by the Election Commission of India through its State representative-the Chief Electoral Officer while Panchayat polls had to be held by the State Election Commission (SEC). However, in the absence of SEC, the State Government has, through an Ordinance promulgated by the Governor, designated the CEO as the SEC for conduct of Panchayat polls.
“The preparations for Panchayat elections were also going on simultaneously. But a call on exact timing of Panchayat elections hasn’t been taken by the Government as the dates, which the State Government had proposed for Panchayat elections (March end to April end) were clashing with by-election to Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha seats,” sources said.
Anantnag Parliamentary seat had fallen vacant in June, 2016 after Lok Sabha member from this seat, Mehbooba Mufti (now the Chief Minister) was elected to the Legislative Assembly from Anantnag Assembly seat. Srinagar Lok Sabha seat had fallen vacant after former PDP leader Tariq Hamid Karra had resigned from the PDP as well as Lok Sabha in protest against what he called `brutalities’ on Kashmir unrest protesters.