MHA holds high-level review of security, poll preparedness in J&K

HM or HS to visit State for on spot assessment
Several options discussed, no final call taken
Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Jan 16: The Union Ministry of Home Affairs held a high-level review of security situation and election preparedness in Jammu and Kashmir with top brass of the Ministry, Intelligence agencies and para-military personnel as suspense persisted on simultaneous conduct of Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the State.
Sources told the Excelsior that Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba took assessment of ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir, both on militancy and law & order fronts, from Intelligence and security agencies and top officials of the Home Ministry including Incharge of the State desk as the Home Ministry can advise the Election Commission of India on holding Lok Sabha and Assembly elections together or separately though the Commission had to take the final call.
The Home Ministry is reported to have discussed requirement of para-military forces for smooth conduct of Lok Sabha and Assembly elections as the MHA can spare only limited number of the companies for the general elections in view of requirement of security forces in many other States in additional number especially in Naxal-infested areas, North East and other violence-prone zones.
“Security situation has been the main criteria for conduct of elections,” sources said, pointing out that various options on Lok Sabha and Assembly elections were discussed at the high-level meeting and there was a possibility that either Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh or the Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba would visit the State especially the Valley after January 26 for on spot review of the arrangements before firming up any opinion on the simultaneous polls.
The Home Ministry officials, according to sources, were in regular touch with top brass of civil and police administration in Jammu and Kashmir apart from the heads of para-military forces and Intelligence agencies, operating in the State, on assessment of the situation for conduct of the elections.
Sources pointed out that the MHA meeting also took note of successful holding of Panchayat and Municipal elections in the State in the months of October, November and December, which were completely violence-free due to extraordinary security arrangements made by all agencies involved in conduct of the polls. While Municipal elections were held after a gap of more than 13 years, Panchayat polls were conducted after over seven years. However, both the elections were held separately.
The options discussed in the meeting reportedly included simultaneous holding of Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, conducting Lok Sabha polls in April-May and deferring Assembly elections by little over a month in June-July, like Municipal and Panchayat polls, which were held with a gap of few days or going for Assembly polls in October-November as security forces had to conduct peaceful annual pilgrimage of Shri Amarnath Ji shrine in June-July, which is also tourist season in the State.
According to sources, there would be couple of more meetings in the MHA on the issue of simultaneous elections in the State.
The Election Commission of India had reviewed preparedness for the general elections and Assembly polls in three States of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Jammu and Kashmir on January 11 with concerned Chief Electoral Officers (CEOs). Final decision on when to hold the elections is vested with the Election Commission but in view of disturbed conditions in the Valley, the Commission can take opinion of the Union Home Ministry especially on security preparedness, sources pointed out.
The Election Commission also conducts its own review of security situation and other kind of preparedness for the elections with its representative including the Chief Electoral Officer. Worthwhile to mention here that the Election Commission couldn’t hold by-election to Anantnag Parliamentary seat in South Kashmir for more than one and a half years now. It was scheduled to be held in May 2017 but was deferred after violence in Srinagar Lok Sabha seat by-poll, which was held in April. The Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, which was represented by PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, remained vacant since then.
The Union Home Minister had stated in both Houses of the Parliament recently that his Ministry was ready to meet security requirements of the Election Commission if it desired to hold simultaneous Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir with Lok Sabha polls, which were due in the months of April-May.


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