‘Committed to free, fair, transparent elections’
EC to take all steps for good turnout
JAMMU, Mar 5: Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora said today that a decision on conduct of simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections will be taken shortly and announced in New Delhi even as he maintained that the Election Commission was taking all steps for high turnout and free, fair, peaceful, transparent, ethical and inclusive elections.
Addressing a press conference at the end of two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir to take decision whether to hold Assembly elections with Lok Sabha polls or defer them, Arora, accompanied by Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), J&K, Shailendra Kumar and other officials of the Commission, said during two days they discussed issues of simultaneous elections with political parties and took opinion of civil and police administration.
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“In the past also, we had been inter-acting with the Union Home Secretary, the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police (DGP) of J&K. Today, again we have taken opinion of the officers. We will consider the opinion and take final call on simultaneous elections. The decision will be announced in New Delhi,” Arora said.
However, the Chief Election Commissioner declined to disclose the views presented by Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam and Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh in the meeting with the full Election Commission today on security situation of the State saying he can’t reveal what the Chief Secretary, the DGP or other officers said during security review meetings with them.
To a question that Panchayat and Municipal elections were held only few months back in Jammu and Kashmir and they were completely peaceful, Arora said these two elections didn’t fall under purview of the Election Commission of India as they are conducted by the State Election Commission.
“The Election Commission is committed to hold free, fair, peaceful, transparent, ethical and inclusive elections. We attach prime importance to ensuring conducive environment for conducting elections in the State keeping in view the specific concerns of the State. Effective mechanism is being fine tuned for the electoral process. The Commission has directed for making comprehensive action plans to instill absolute confidence among all stakeholders,” Arora said.
Referring to security concerns in the State, he said, the Election Commission is indeed mindful of specific challenges on law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir especially in certain Assembly segments in view of their location and concerns and the Commission will look into due security arrangements while deciding on timing and phasing of the elections.
“The Commission would keep in view the sentiments voiced by representatives of political parties with respect to the need for restoring democratically elected Government in the State. The Commission is aware that elections have been conducted in the past under trying circumstances in the State,” he said, adding that elections in Jammu and Kashmir do attract global and national attention more than any other State.
He said during Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, the Commission was briefed on poll boycott call by the Left wing extremists. “We held elections in separate phases in these districts and there was 75 percent turnout,” he pointed out.
Replying to a question on likely poll boycott and the fact that by-poll to Anantnag Lok Sabha seat couldn’t be held even after two years of postponement, the Chief Election Commissioner said some of the issues are beyond the control of the Commission. He said the State administration had given detailed report to them listing reasons on Anantnag and the Commission took a call based on the report.
“Votes or no votes are not purview of the Commission but I hope the people will vote,” Arora said on the boycott call, which is generally given by the separatists after announcement of every election. However, the Commission will take all steps for good turnout.
Regarding tension on Indo-Pak borders and whether this can have impact on Jammu and Kashmir elections, Arora said: “the border tensions don’t have any time-frame. The district administration of the areas has stated that they can hold the elections by shifting some of the booths, if required. We will take a view of this”.
On whether some political parties objected to the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) as they had been doing at the national level, the Chief Election Commissioner said the EVMs are supervised by reputed technocrats and he also named three of them.
“There is nothing wrong with the EVMs. The EVMs are not footballs,” he said, adding that in the Lok Sabha elections in Delhi, one political party got the mandate and when the Assembly elections were held, it was altogether a different mandate for another party. The EVMs are being used for past two decades and now we have introduced VVPATs also,” he said.
Arora declined to comment on ban imposed on Jamaat-e-Islami, Jammu and Kashmir ahead of the elections saying it was for the local authorities to decide.
On meeting with civil and police administration, he said the young officers were fully prepared for conduct of the elections and it was a healthy sign that none of them seem to be intimidated.
With respect to security arrangements, Arora said, representatives from all political parties emphasized that due security arrangements should be made to provide adequate security to voters and candidates to instill confidence in them for conducive environment for forthcoming elections. Some political party members desired that adequate security should be continued for ex-Ministers and candidates even after actual election process is over, he added,
“For the first time in the forthcoming general elections, VVPATs will also be used at all polling booths along with the EVMs,” he said, adding that the Commission has instructed the State Election Officers to popularize the 1950 Help Line/NVSP portal for facilitating the voters.
All political parties emphasised due security arrangements be made to provide adequate security to voters and candidates so as to instil confidence in them for conducive environment for forthcoming elections, he said.
“We are mindful of the challenging law and order situation in the state. Commission will look into due security arrangements while deciding on the timing and phasing of the elections”, Arora added.
In reply to a question whether political leadership of the State and State machinery are on one page in holding elections, he parried the reply.
Asked whether situation is right for holding elections in view of Pulwama terror attack and border shelling, he said “we have seen some of the best presentation by officers. They are very focussed and very precise. None of them seem to be intimidated. They all know what the situation is. They are neither overwhelmed by the situation nor intimated by it. That is the healthy sign”
The Commission also met with Nodal officers of Income Tax, Excise, Narcotics Control, Customs, Banks, Postal Department, Railways, Airports and with State Level Bankers Committee convener to review in detail the strategy to curb misuse of money, liquor & freebies distribution during the election.
Arora said that highlights of the issues discussed during the meeting and instructions of the Commission include issues regarding electoral roll; polling arrangements; security arrangements required for conducting elections in the State as also expenditure monitoring concerns among other issues.
He said the political party representatives mentioned about Electoral Roll issues, that copies of the Roll have not been received by their Central offices.
“They also requested for copies in English apart from Hindi and Urdu. Some instances of duplicate voters were pointed out. Some parties voiced concern for Migrant Voters finding the M Form procedure not very convenient”, he added.
Arora said they desired that special polling stations be set up for such migrant voters.
“The representatives desired that polling stations be set up closer to areas where large number of voters reside”, he said.
The CEC said the parties also cited instances of transfer of some officers in violation of ECI norm.
He said that they requested that officials who can adversely influence conduct of free and fair elections, should not be allowed to continue in their posts.
“They also said given the snowbound conditions in the state, polling dates be considered after month of May”, he added.
The Commission solicits proactive support of all political parties, media, civil society, youth and community organisations and all voters of the state to join hands with it and wholeheartedly participate in the poll process, the CEC said.
The Electoral Rolls without photographs have also been hosted on the CEO’s official website, he added.
All parties in Jammu too
favour Assembly polls
Representatives of different political parties here met the visiting team of Election Commission of India today and advocated holding of State Assembly polls simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections. Similar were the views of political parties, which met the Commission in Srinagar yesterday.
National Conference provincial president Devender Singh Rana said restoration of democracy is in the interest of the State and a popular Government is the need of the hour in view of the emerging situation.
“The Governor with four Advisors and Chief Secretary cannot be an alternative to the popular Government. The people are facing a lot of problems and only their representatives can reach out to them to mitigate their sufferings,” Rana said after meeting the Commission along with Sajjad Ahmed Kichloo and Javed Rana.
“We believe restoration of the popular Government will help in improving the security situation in the State,” Devender Rana he said.
BJP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta, who led the party delegation to the Commission, said: “The Ladakh region along with Jammu and many districts in Kashmir are peaceful and elections could be held in a phased manner to restore popular Government in the State. We are in favour of both elections simultaneously.”
State Congress vice president and former Minister Raman Bhalla, who led the party delegation, said the Congress never escaped from the democratic exercise and it is the responsibility of the ECI to restore democracy in the State by holding the elections.
“If general elections could be held, there is no justification of deferring Assembly polls,” Bhalla said, adding that the people of the State want popular Government in place without any further delay.
However, Bhalla demanded adequate security for the candidates.
Senior PDP leader and former Minister Choudhary Zulfkar Ali said the delegation put forth the viewpoint of the party which wants early elections to restore basic rights of the people.
“The credibility of Parliament, the Supreme Court and the ECI is at stake. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had assured Parliament that the Centre is ready for the Assembly polls in the state,” Zulfkar said.
“The Supreme Court had given a directive that the elections to the State Assembly should be held within six months after the fall of the popular Government and the ECI is an independent body to conduct free and fair elections,” he said.
JKNPP chairman and former Minister Harshdev Singh quoted Governor Satya Pal Malik that not a single bird was hurt during the Panchayat and Municipal elections in the State held last year. “The Panchayat election is the most challenging because you have to go to the remotest place. If those elections could be held in a peaceful manner, delaying Assembly elections on the demand of a particular political party would be wrong and grave injustice with the people,” Harshdev said.
Harshdev told the Election Commission that it would be disastrous to defer the Assembly elections and that they (the Commission) shouldn’t commit such a mistake.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) delegation led by Thakur Randhir Singh, former Minister and comprising RC Bali and Raj Singh Jamwal told the Election Commission that elections in the State should be held after teaching Pakistan a lesson. He called for reducing term of the Legislative Assembly from six years to five years.
A delegation of CPIM led by Naresh Munshi and comprising Amarjeet Singh and Sanjay Kotwal in their meeting with the Election Commission favoured immediate Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the State. They said it was responsibility of the Commission to hold free and fair elections.
After meeting political parties, the full Election Commission met Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Sanjeev Verma, Additional DGP Law & Order, Muneer Khan, IGP Jammu, MK Sinha, IGP CRPF Zulfiqar Hassan and all Deputy Commissioners and SSPs of Jammu province to take review of election preparedness and security arrangements.
Later, they had a separate meeting with Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam and Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh and obtained their views on various aspects of security situation in the entire State.
Yesterday, they had met civil and police officials of Kashmir and Ladakh divisions in Srinagar and representatives of various political parties. The Commission team returned to New Delhi this evening after two-day visit to the State.
‘Committed to free, fair, transparent elections’