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ECI mindful of challenging situation in JK

Srinagar Mar 5: The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Tuesday said it will look into the security arrangement while deciding the time and arrangement of the Assembly and parliamentary elections in the state.

The ECI team led by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), Sunil Arora, which completed its two-day visit to J&K to review the election preparedness in the state, said the Commission was “mindful of the specific challenging law and order situation in the state especially in certain Assembly segments given their location and concerns.”

 

“The Commission is aware that elections have been conducted in the past under trying circumstances in the state. J&K elections do attract global and national attention more than any other state. The Commission would also keep in view the sentiments voiced by the representatives with respect to need for restoring democratically elected government in the state,” he said in an official handout.

The political parties, as per the handout, complained to the team about the violation of ECI norms in the state.

“Among other miscellaneous issues, the Parties cited instances of transfer of some officers in violation of ECI norm was brought to the notice of the Commission. 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,” it said.

All the politicians, as per the ECI handout, voiced the need for conducting elections on immediate basis in the state, citing the turnout in recently held Panchayat and ULB polls.

“The general population in the state wishes to have their democratically elected government in place. They said the party representatives and public at large have full faith in ECI that they would fulfill their constitutional mandate to conduct free and fair elections in the State,” the ECI handout read.

Arora, who was accompanied by two other election commissioners during his visit, said the commission was “committed to deliver free, fair and peaceful election in the state”.

“Effective mechanism is being fine-tuned for smooth conduct of the electoral process. The Commission has directed the state level and district level election machinery to meticulously coordinate all logistics arrangements for smooth conduct of elections and make comprehensive action plans so as to instill absolute confidence in all stakeholders,” he said.

The election commission said due attention will be paid to ensure the purity of electoral rolls ahead of the elections.

“While final publication of electoral rolls has been done on February 7, and copies of the same have been distributed at district level, copies as desired will also be made available to all political parties in hard as well soft form.”

Arora informed the orders for the reconstitution of Media Certification and Monitoring Committees has been issued in view of the role of social media in disseminating information about elections.

“Commission is aware of the increasing concern about emerging role of social media in spread of information. The Commission has issued orders for partial modification in earlier guidelines that the Media Certification & Monitoring Committees at District and State level will need to be reconstituted with the inclusion of an Intermediary expert (intermediary as defined in section  2(w) of IT Act, 2000)/social media expert,” he said.

“For the purpose of the certification of advertisements as per the Supreme Court order dated 13.04.2004, Returning Officer of the parliamentary constituency/District Election Officer, an ARO (not below SDM) and an Intermediary Expert/Social Media Expert shall be the members of the MCMC.”

To ensure transparency in voting, the election commission announced about the introducing of Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in upcoming general elections.

“For the first time in the forthcoming general elections, VVPATs will also be used at all polling booths along with the EVM machines. Thus the officers need to ensure due awareness to all stakeholders about proper usage of the machines. The officers were also asked to strictly adhere to the laid down procedures and Standard Operating Procedures about use, storage and Transportation of the machines in all the constituencies,” the handout read.

During the visit, the Commission met with representatives of various political parties and noted their issues and concerns.

The Commission reviewed the work of District Election Officers, SPs/Commissioner of Police, Divisional Commissioners and IGs and discussed election preparedness with Chief Secretary, DGP and other Nodal Officials of the State.

“Representatives from all political Parties emphasized that due security arrangements be made to provide adequate security to voters and candidates so as 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,” the handout reads.

 

Parties in Jammu too call for simultaneous polls

Srinagar, Mar 5: Representatives of different political parties here met the visiting team of Election Commission of India on Tuesday and advocated holding state assembly polls simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections.

The team, headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, reached Jammu on the second leg of the two-day tour and held discussions with the representatives of various political parties, including the BJP, Congress, National Conference, PDP, CPI(M) and the National Panthers Party (NPP), officials said.

A similar exercise was conducted by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in Srinagar on Monday as part of its efforts to assess the feasibility of holding the Lok Sabha and the assembly polls together.

Cutting across party affiliations, the representatives of almost all parties impressed upon the commission to hold assembly elections in the state simultaneously with the Lok Sahba polls.

“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,” senior BJP leader and former J-K deputy chief minister Kavinder Gupta told reporters after the party delegation met the ECI team here.

State Congress vice president and former minister Raman Bhalla, who led the party delegation, said the Congress never escaped form 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,” he said, adding that the people of the state want popular government in place without any further delay

However, he demanded adequate security for the candidates.

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.

“We believe restoration of the popular government will help in improving the security situation in the state,” he said.

Senior PDP leader and former minister Choudhary Zulfikar 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,” he 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.

Ali said the PDP is prepared for the elections and believes that the situation is conducive for the polls in the state.

Asked about the recent developments in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, he said, “Jammu and Kashmir is a chronic problem since 1947 and so the tension along the borders. Should we wait till the Kashmir problem is resolved and Indo-Pakistan develops friendship and the war will not be only for Jammu and Kashmir but for the whole country.”

JKNPP chairman and former minister Harsh Dev Singh quoted the J-K governor that not a single bird was hurt during the Panchayat 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,” he said.

The team will meet the DGP, chief secretary and other senior government officials to get a briefing on the security situation in the state before finalising its decision, the officials said.

The state has been under the President’s Rule since December 19, 2018.

The PDP-BJP government in the state fell on June 19 after the national party pulled out of the coalition.