New Delhi, Oct 25 (IANS) Under attack for delaying announcement of the Gujarat poll schedule, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) A.K. Joti was on Wednesday hard put to defend the Commissions decision, and rejected suggestions of “connivance” with the state government.
Facing a volley of questions from media persons, the CEC’s defence of the decision to delay the announcement by 12 days after that of Himachal Pradesh, primarily hinged on two points — one, that it would have hit the relief and rehabilitation work in Gujarat in the aftermath of the July-August floods; and secondly, the precedent of separate polls in the two states.
“There is no question of connivance with the state government. The EC has to take into consideration several factors. The Gujarat Chief Secretary wrote to us on September 27 and on October 2.
“It was requested that the state should be given more time as relief and rehabilitation work in seven adversely affected districts of the state would get slowed after announcement of polls,” said Joti.
“The state machinery and officials involved in the relief and rehabilitation works will have to be diverted to poll-related duties, and thus it will affect the rehabilitation work,” he added.
To the point that the Rehabilitation Commissioner had not written any letter to the EC seeking to delay the poll announcement, Joti said: “We don’t deal with Relief Commissioner, we deal with Chief Secretary as he represents the state.”
Asked how much relief and rehabilitation work has been done in the last 12 days, he cited figures of relief work since September 25 and October 22.
“A lot of relief work has been done. It is not completed but there has been much progress,” he said.
On the ground reports from the flood affected areas of Gujarat suggesting that no relief work is currently on and it had been done in July and August, Joti said that the “short term relief” has been done but the “long term relief” is still going on.
Joti has served as Gujarat Chief Secretary when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of the state.
Questions on the EC’s credibility are being raised as Prime Minister Modi inaugurated and laid foundation stones of a number of development projects worth thousands of crores of rupees between October 12 and October 24.
Joti said that the fact that Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat have “no commonality, nor are they neighbouring states” was another factor that prompted the EC to de-link the two elections.
“This is not for the first time that the two states are not going to the polls together. In 2002-03, Gujarat elections happened in December 2002 while that of Himachal in February 2003. This also happened in 1993 and 1995,” he said.
In 2002, the polls to two states were de-linked as Gujarat Assembly was dissolved eight months ahead of its term following the communal riots, which necessitated early polls in Gujarat.
Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh have usually had simultaneous Assembly elections, latest in 2012 and 2007, besides in 1985, 1990 and 1998, besides 2007 and 2012. The break came when pre-term polls were held in Himachal in September 1993.
The CEC said that the state governments’ requests are “always taken into consideration” and that the schedule of Himachal elections was made keeping in mind the local administration’s and political parties’ requests.
“We visited Himachal on September 25-26. The state administration and political parties requested and suggested to complete the elections before mid November as some of the areas — Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Bharmour — are prone to snowfall. It was a major reason,” Joti said.
He invoked a 2001 Law Ministry Memorandum that said the EC should ordinarily not announce the date of any election more than three weeks prior to the issue of notification.
“In Gujarat notification is on November 14, which is 21 days from now,” he said.
Joti also refused to comment on several former Election Commissioners and Chief Election Commissioners expressing surprise over the EC’s decision.
“I would not comment on what former members or heads of Election Commission have to say. The EC has to take decision considering the present realities,” he said.
The EC had announced the poll schedule for Himachal Pradesh on October 12. The state Assembly’s term is ending on January 7. The Gujarat Assembly’s term will end on January 22.
The counting of votes for both Himachal and Gujarat will be done on December 18.
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