Poll body to take call soon
JAMMU, Apr 16: Three Special Election Observers appointed by the Election Commission of India (ECI) to assess possibility of holding Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, have submitted their report to the Commission giving three options on when the polls could be held to the Legislative Assembly, which was dissolved by Governor Satya Pal Malik on November 21, 2018.
Official sources told the Excelsior that three Special Observers including Noor Mohammad, retired IAS officer, Vinod Zutshi, retired Deputy Election Commissioner and AS Gill, retired IPS officer, have submitted their report to the Commission giving options to the poll body on conduct of Assembly elections in the State.
The options, according to sources, included holding Assembly elections between May end to June by concluding elections a week ahead of the start of Shri Amarnath Ji Yatra on July 1 to facilitate deployment of para-military personnel for the annual pilgrimage, holding the elections after September 15 by when the yatra and Monsoon will be over or taking the elections to November-December when they were held in 2008 and 2014.
“The Election Commission had to take the final call on conduct of the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir in consultations with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs keeping in view the security considerations as State needs larger number of para-military companies for holding free and fair elections,” sources said.
They added that security agencies were of the view that it would require at least a fortnight to deploy para-military forces for annual Amarnath Ji pilgrimage, which would start on July 1 and culminate on August 15. Going by the yatra schedule, deployment of para-military forces would start on June 15. The holy month of Ramzan will end on June 5 with celebration of Eid.
There would be very less time available if the Election Commission had to conduct Assembly elections in six to seven faces after completion of process to the Lok Sabha elections. Counting of Lok Sabha elections will be held on May 23 while entire process for the polls has to be completed by May 27.
However, it will depend on the Election Commission and the Ministry of Home Affairs whether they go with holding elections in June keeping break of two to three days between the phases.
The advantage of holding Assembly elections in June is that nearly 450 para-military companies were already stationed in Jammu and Kashmir for conduct of Lok Sabha polls, which were being held in five phases. The same companies can be utilized for holding Assembly elections followed by Shri Amarnath ji yatra.
However, the problem in conduct of elections in June will be availability of very less time between Eid and start of deployment for pilgrimage. Moreover, there will be extreme hot weather in parts of Jammu region in the month of June.
Sources said another option being considered is holding Assembly elections after September 15 as Amarnath Ji yatra will be complete on August 15 and Monsoon too will be over by September 15.
Yet another option, according to sources, is extending Assembly elections to November-December as they were held previously in 2008 and 2014 as Nomads started returning to plains from the hills only in the month of October, which will lead to increase in voting percentage.
As per the Election Commission guidelines, the Assembly elections had to be held within six months of dissolution of the House, that is before May 21, 2019 as previous Assembly was dissolved on November 21, 2018 by Governor Satya Pal Malik following claims and counter claims by two fronts–one led by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and another by Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference–to form the Government. However, the Election Commission can defer the Assembly elections beyond six months in view of security considerations.
Governor’s rule was imposed in the State on June 19, 2018 following withdrawal of support to Mehbooba Mufti-led Government by the BJP. After expiry of six months term of Governor’s rule, the State came under the President’s rule on December 19, 2018, which too will expire on June 19, 2019.
If new Government is not formed till June 19, the Central Government had to extend the term of President’s rule by another six months.
Sources said the Election Commission will soon take a call on the report of Election Observers and then elicit opinion of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to decide timing for holding Assembly elections in the State.
While announcing Lok Sabha polls on March 10, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had said that Assembly elections in the State will not be held along with Parliamentary elections.
He had cited constraints in availability of Central forces, other logistics and recent incidents of violence as reasons for the decision to hold only Lok Sabha polls in the State.
The Commission had appointed three Election Observers to visit J&K and examine possibility for conduct of the Assembly elections.
The Observers had visited Jammu and Kashmir for five days and met stakeholders including representatives of political parties and the State Government to take their opinion on holding the Assembly elections.