EC deputes high-level team to Kashmir for 2-day assessment

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Apr 22: As State Government shot off fresh letter to the Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking further postponement of Anantnag by-election, which is scheduled to be held on May 25, the Commission has deputed a high-level team to Kashmir on a two-day visit from April 24 to assess the situation with all stakeholders. Based on the report of the team, the Commission will take a decision on whether to go ahead with the by-poll or defer it.
Official sources told the Excelsior that Chief Secretary BR Sharma and Director General of Police (DGP) Dr Shesh Pal Vaid have written a joint letter to the Election Commission of India on behalf of the State Government seeking postponement of by-poll to Anantnag Parliamentary seat from May 25 on the ground that law and order situation was not conducive for holding elections in Anantnag.
The heads of civil and police administration in Jammu and Kashmir have cited law and order problem witnessed during by-election to Srinagar Lok Sabha seat on April 9 when nine civilians were killed in the violence to justify their demand for deferring Anantnag by-poll, which has already been postponed twice.
Sources said immediately after receiving official letter from the State Government, the Election Commission of India, which had on Thursday taken opinion of Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi on Anantnag by-election, constituted a high-level team of three Deputy Election Commissioners to undertake extensive visit to Kashmir valley including parts of Anantnag constituency for two days on April 24 and 25.
Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), J&K, Shantmanu said the high-level team will tour South Kashmir districts, which comprised Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, inter-act with the Deputy Commissioners and the SSPs and hold independent assessment of the situation. Later, they will also meet all recognized political parties and candidates in the fray for Anantnag seat.
The delegation will also be briefed on the situation by senior officers of civil and police administration during their two day-visit.
Sources said the team on its return to New Delhi would brief the three Election Commissioners including Chief Election Commissioner Dr Nasim Zaidi and Election Commissioners AK Joti and Om Prakash Rawat, who would then take a decision on whether the situation was conducive for holding by-election to Anantnag Lok Sabha seat or not.
“The Commission is expected to announce its decision anytime after the return of its high-level team from Kashmir,” sources said.
They added that after the Election Commission of India came under criticism from Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and even some Opposition parties for holding by-election to Srinagar Lok Sabha seat, the Commission didn’t want to take any chance by holding Anantnag poll against the wishes of State Government as well as all political parties. The Commission would now go by the consensus i.e. whatever emerged after talks with the stakeholders and independent assessment of situation by its team.
After large scale violence during Srinagar Lok Sabha by-poll on April 9 in which nine civilians were killed, the Commission had deferred Anantnag by-poll, which was scheduled to be held on April 12, to May 25. Prior to that, the Anantnag election was deferred in December last year on the request of the State Government.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had resigned as Lok Sabha member from Anantnag on June 4 last year after being elected as MLA from Anantnag seat and being designated as Chief Minister of the State on April 4, 2016 in the aftermath of death of her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Since the by-election to any Lok Sabha or Assembly seat had to be conducted within six months, Anantnag by-poll was scheduled before January 3 but it was deferred. Sources pointed out that for deferring by-election beyond six months, the Election Commission of India had to submit the proposed to the Law Ministry. The fresh deadline of six months will also expire on July 3 and the Election Commission had to submit fresh proposal to the Law Ministry if it decided to defer poll beyond May 25.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had recently blamed the Election Commission for announcing by-elections against advice of the State Government and indirectly blamed the Commission for the violence that took place on April 9 during Srinagar by-poll.

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