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De-linked polls with reason: CEC on Gujarat assembly elections

Election Commissioner, A.K. Joti. A file photo.

Election Commissioner, A.K. Joti. A file photo.   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

‘Both geographically and weather-wise, there is no commonality between Gujarat and Himachal’

Responding to criticism by Opposition leaders over the ‘delay’ in announcing poll dates for Gujarat, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) A.K. Joti on Saturday told The Hindu that several factors, including the ongoing flood relief operations in the State, determined the electoral body’s decision.

Mr. Joti’s response comes a day after senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram questioned the Commission’s autonomy and accused it of going on “an extended holiday”.

In an exclusive interview, Mr. Joti said that with the announcement of the election schedule, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) would have immediately come into effect in Gujarat. This in turn would have disturbed the relief and rehabilitation operations in seven flood-affected districts of the State, as the staff there would have to be diverted for election-related duties.

“Then their attention towards relief work could not be on the same priority, as election duties would get a higher priority,” said Mr. Joti.

When asked that the MCC permitted continuation of relief works with prior approval from the Election Commission of India (EC), the CEC said the floods in Gujarat had occurred in July-August and civil works could be started only in mid-September.

“It is not that only houses have collapsed, roads are a major casualty. They include Gram Panchayat, Taluka Panchayat and district category roads….then, there is the Narmada main canal that also reaches Rajasthan, besides covering the Gujarat districts. In the northern Gujarat region, the canal has 17 bridges, as a result of which the water had to be stopped,” said Mr. Joti.

The canal is used for irrigation and also for supply of drinking water to all the seven affected districts. “That is why, all these works had started only in mid-September. Technical staff of the public works, irrigation and water supply departments are engaged in these works,” he said.

As part of poll arrangements, Mr. Joti said, three rounds of election training is provided for officials of various government departments, and they also have to be acquainted with many election-related forms. “When the MCC is in force, it is not possible to keep them from election duty. All government officials, including Gram Panchayat and Taluk level officials, have to be deployed for elections,” he said.

The CEC said another factor was that political parties and the State administration in Himachal Pradesh had requested that voting should be held before November 15 due to uncertainty over snowfall in the high reaches of State, particularly in the Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur districts, and the Bharmour constituency in Chamba.

“So, it was necessary to delink the elections in two States. Both geographically and weather-wise, there is no commonality between them. One is a hill State and the other is in the plains,” he said.

The EC has announced that the Gujarat election will be held before December 18, the day on which Himachal Pradesh poll results are to be declared. It would ensure that the results did not impact the voting pattern in Gujarat, said the CEC.

Mr. Joti said another reason for de-linking the elections was that the total time period from the announcement of the schedule to the completion of poll process should be around 46 days, as per the Supreme Court ruling and the Representation of the People Act.

The Commission, he said, also took into account the availability of Central police forces and major festivals to ensure they did not clash with the elections.

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Printable version | May 23, 2020 1:22:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/de-linked-polls-with-reason-cec-on-gujarat-assembly-elections/article19898006.ece

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