Opposition condemns prohibitory orders; polling materials despatched

Even as the stage has been set for the big parliamentary vote on Thursday in all 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu and one in the Union Territory of Puducherry, the clamping of prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code by election authorities for the first time across the State has heightened the anxieties of the Opposition parties, prompting them to condemn it as undemocratic and unwarranted.

However, officials have defended the step, saying it is part of the preventive measures to ensure peaceful polling and enable voters to exercise their democratic right without fear or intimidation.

The strongest reaction to the clampdown has come from the DMK and the Left parties since Tuesday night, whose leaders have demanded its revocation. The editor of the Tamil journal Puthiya Paarvai, M. Natarajan, said in Erode that Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar had “usurped the powers of the State.” He said the decision would create a fear psychosis and called it an infringement of the constitutional rights.

Polling materials were despatched on Wednesday morning to far-off, hostile and inaccessible terrains, Mr. Praveen Kumar told The Hindu. The State has a polling station at Padmanabhapuram in Kanyakumari district for just 18 voters, and there are 17 polling stations with less than 100 voters.

To make the polling experience friendly for the differently-abled (visually-impaired and locomotive disorder) and those accompanying them, vehicles used by them would be allowed to the polling station, whereas other vehicles would be stopped 200 metres away. Those accompanying them would get priority in entry, he said.

The CEO said flying squads had seized Rs. 25.06 crore in cash and Rs. 27.68 crore of gift items till April 23. Nearly 5,400 zonal parties had mounted vigil against door-to-door distribution of cash to voters and seized Rs. 55.19 lakh in the last two days. Of the 111 men allegedly involved, 17 had been arrested. All seized materials, including cash, were deposited in the treasury.

The State police deployed 1.43 lakh personnel drafted from various security agencies. Close to 500 ex-servicemen who reported for poll duty in Tiruvannamalai and Vellore districts protested against “inadequate remuneration” and demanded that it be enhanced from Rs. 410 to Rs. 600. Some of them backed out of poll duty.

Mr. Praveen Kumar said the remuneration, fixed by the Election Commission, was uniform across the country.

Pointing to the remuneration paid during the local bodies elections, they sought more. In fact, parity was ensured, and the ex-servicemen were paid Rs. 60 more than the polling staff and other officials, he said.

Director-General of Police (Elections) Anoop Jaiswal told The Hindu that the Superintendents of Police in both districts held talks with ex-servicemen.

The State government or the State police had no role to play in fixing the remuneration. Many of them came back for duty.

The police have enough on standby for replacing those backing out.