Panchayat elections were last held in the State in 2010 and that too after a gap of more than twenty years. The Governor Mr. N.N. Vohra has been insisting on holding Panchayat election because the people need to be empowered so that they are able to be responsible partners in the development endeavours of the Government.
Only a few days back the Governor of the State issued an ordinance for holding Panchayat elections in the State and, consequently instructions were conveyed giving the State Election Commissioner the powers of functioning as the Chief Election Officer for forthcoming Panchayat election. A piquant situation has developed in this regard. The Government has issued instructions saying that obsolete and outdated system of polling mechanism will be revived for casting the ballot paper in Panchayat election of the State. It means that the electronic voting system which has been adopted by all states in the country including J&K in Parliamentary and Assembly elections will not be adopted for Panchayat election. The old system of casting votes in the ballot boxes and then counting them one by one would be adopted. In the first place it is amusing that the electronic vote casting system which has become universal all over the world and the country will be discarded for our Panchayati election and the old and outdated system will be adopted. It looks bizarre that we should be reverting to obsolete system while we have the latest system at our disposal. It raises many questions. Why the shift? Reports suggest that even the Election Commission was stunned by this order because using boxes and then physically counting the votes one by one is a time consuming exercise. Past experience has shown that the old and outdated system is prone to misuse and malpractice, and as such it was discarded and Electronic Voting Machine was adopted in its place.
We are mystified by a very regressive order of the Government of reverting to old and obsolete system of voting in forthcoming Panchayat election. The Election Commission for Panchayat election has conceded that this order has created many difficulties for the conduct of election. In the first place there is not adequate number of ballot boxes available with the State Government. As such the EC had to approach many states and ultimately Himachal Pradesh has agreed to lend a sufficient number of boxes on loan. These have to be transported all the way from Himachal. Further it may be mentioned in part that internally displaced community from the valley way back in 1990 as a result of emergence of terrorism and violence was not given an opportunity of casting their vote in the Panchayat election of 2010. This time again there appears little chance of EC showing willingness to let them exercise its right to vote. In reverting to old system Government’s contention is that it wants to follow the stipulation of the Act in letter and in spirit. Obviously, EVM system had not been adopted at the time when the Act was passed, and as such, the Act took into account the normal course viz. casting ballots in a box. If the Government had wished, it could have incorporated one sentence suggesting the use of EVM in the ordinance issued by the Governor. It did not and that can be done even now so that the EC and its entire machinery are relieved of the hassles likely to surface.