The Election Commission of India (ECI) headed by the Chief Election Commissioner Dr. Nasim Zaidi along with two Election Commissioners, Mr. A.K.Joti and Mr. O.P. Rawat, Deputy Election Commissioners was on a three day visit to Chandigarh to take stock of the first-hand assessment of the advance planning and preparations made by the state election machinery for the forthcoming elections.While addressing Press Conference at the conclusion of visit here today, Dr Zaidi said that the ECI has has directed the Election Machinery to be fearless, unbiased, neutral and independent from any kind influence particularly political. Conduct and discharge of duties by the election officials would be under constant watch of the Commission from now onward. Anyone found wanting on these standards, Commission will take stern action. Political Parties and Media have expressed their apprehensions about influence of drug, liquor, money and muscle power during ensuing Punjab Elections. Commission has worked out a detailed strategy to maintain purity of elections and to deliver free, fair and transparent elections. Information and Communication Technology would be used in all the spheres of election processes, from electoral registration to election planning, to monitor effective action against all anti-social elements, election expenditure and paid news monitoring, Model Code of Conduct enforcement to voter education and ethical voting.
On the final day of their visit to the poll bound state of Punjab, Chief Election Commissioner. Dr. Zaidi said that the ECI was committed to conduct free and fair elections to the state and would leave no stone unturned to honor his commitment to the electorate of the state. Dr. Zaidi informed that during this visit, the Commission met various political parties to understand their issues and concerns. Commission noted their suggestions for holding free fair and peaceful elections in the state. They had met the Editor in Chiefs and senior editors of Print and electronic Media.The Commission also reviewed work of DCs, CoPs, SSPs, DIGs/IGs and discussed issues with Government level officials including DGP, Home Secretary and the Chief Secretary and other senior officers of the State. Commission also discussed strategy with various Enforcement agencies.Referring to the issues raised and suggestions made by the Political parties, Dr. Zaidi said that all the political parties demanded that entire electoral process must be conducted in a free and fair manner and all possible steps must be taken by the Commission to ensure that every elector is able to exercise his/her franchise without any threat, intimidation or inducement.
On law and order in the state, he said that several Political parties informed Commission about undue influence of Halqa In charge over local civil and police functionaries. They also demanded that complete overhauling of the police and administration must be carried out to ensure free and fair elections. Proclaimed offenders must be booked and the current system of parole be reviewed so that anti-social elements are not able to influence electoral process. The political parties also demanded that the posting of local civic and police officials must be strictly reviewed and officers known to be biased and influenced by local political considerations must be removed.The Commission has directed that comprehensive security arrangements must be made well in advance. Further, adequate Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) must be initiated jointly by the DEO and SSP to reassure the voters and instill faith and confidence in them regarding the fail-proof security and electoral arrangements.International borders in 6 border districts namely Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Fazilka and Ferozepur and also Inter-state borders will be appropriately subjected to surveillance.On the abuse of Money, drug/liquor and use of Muscle Power, he said that some political parties have demanded that Special Task Force (STF) be set up for each constituency to check distribution of drugs, alcohols and money before and during elections. These STF’s should be independent of local police and civil administration and STF should remain on duty till polling process is over.On the Model Code of Conduct, he said that the parties have demanded that the MCC be enforced strictly and all unauthorized banners/posters/festoons/flags etc. must be removed. Many parties have suggested that MCC be invoked as early as possible. Some Parties demanded ban on blue ration cards issued under National Food Security Mission with the pictures of the Chief Minister which would be violation once MCC comes in to force.
Parties informed that Religion and politics is being mixed to influence the voters in favour of ruling parties by misusing the Govt. money resources and official machinery.The CEC said that maximum Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) Deployment has also been demanded by the parties in maximum number of polling stations. The Forces should be deployed well before the poll date for area domination and confidence-building measures, especially in the vulnerable and sensitive villages/hamlets and should remain posted till the polling day.The CEC also said that in there would be enhanced use of Webcasting and CCTV Coverage in the polling booths especially located in the vulnerable areas having any caste, communal, political or socio-economic sensitivity. Political parties have mentioned that Electoral Rolls in Punjab have been prepared and amended by temporary government employees like Anganwadi workers who are political appointees of the government. They also demanded that these Anganwadi workers and contractual staff should not be deployed for election duty.
The political parties requested single phase election in the state. The Parties stressed the need to ensure that all election-related officials especially at the senior levels like DEOs, RO, SSPs etc must remain absolutely neutral, impartial and unbiased in their functioning and any officer of suspect integrity and competence must be removed. They have requested that misuse of official machinery and government resources should not be allowed for obtaining electoral benefits.On the issue of Paid News, all the political parties were unanimous that Paid News is a major menace in the state and a comprehensive system needs to be worked out to check this menace. Drawing the attention of the Commission on transferof ROs during summary revision period, the political parties demanded that they should not be transferred during this period. They highlighted the need of elaborate campaign and arrangements to enrol young eligible voters for upcoming election.Taking note of all the concerns and suggestions of the political parties, the Commission assured them that the Commission will put in place an effective mechanism to ensure smooth conduct of entire poll process in a free, fair, peaceful and participatory manner.The Commission has directed the State Election Machinery to ensure effective monitoring & vigilance, comprehensive planning and discipline at all levels to address the concern of the political parties and instil confidence in the electorate to exercise their franchise without fear, coercion, intimidation or inducement.The Commission laid emphasis on error-free electoral rolls and ensuring that every eligible person is enrolled as a voter and no name is deleted without following the due procedure as laid down in the statute.
The Chief Electoral Officer Mr. V.K.Singh informed that as on date 07.09.2016, 1, 92, 14509 voters are available on Electoral Roll, including 273 Third Gender (TG) electors. (Male: 1,01,62170 and Female: 90,52,066).In the recent campaign for Special Summary Revision as per eligibility on 1.1.2017, 6,19073 new Form 6 have been received, out of this, 2,25000 are from the first time voters in 18-19 age cohort. At the same time 185645 Form 7 for deletion of shifted and dead voters from the electoral rolls have also been received during this revision. Commission has noted that there is still gap between number of new applications received and no of 18-19-year age group citizens in the state. The Commission has directed DEOs to conduct the gap analysis of E-Roll and devise effective SVEEP strategy to bring eligible citizen on the electoral roll by running a focussed campaign.It was informed that eligible citizens who could not submit their application during Special Summary Revision period can now submit their application for inclusion in form 6 either online (NVSP) or by submitting their application to BLOs, EROs or DEOs and their names will be included in the rolls after due verification. Percentage of photo coverage in the electoral roll is 100% and EPIC coverage is 100%.List of applications received for addition/deletion would be given to political parties so that they can also verify at their end.
Final Electoral Rolls will be displayed on the CEO’s Website and copies of the final Rolls will be given to National and State Political Parties.Commission has directed that all new additions and deletions must be made available to all political parties. The Commission has also directed that in all cases of deletion/rejection, proper intimation shall be sent to the persons concerned after final order. Further, the list of all deleted electors and rejected cases will be given to all the political parties and shall also be available on the website of the CEO and the DEO concerned for absolute transparency. Facilities for search of electoral roll details through SMS, CEO’s website, Toll Free Call center will be made functional. Daily review of field verifications done by the BLOs shall be done by the DEOs and EROs. Commission directed that priority should be given to appoint government staff as BLOs.It was also informed that presently there are a total of 22600 Polling Stations at 14354 Polling locations. All the assured minimum facilities like ramp, drinking water toilets, electricity and waiting room etc have been ensured in these polling Stations.
The Commission has directed to set up all women managed polling stations wherever possible, to motivate women’s participation in the electoral process.Replicating the use of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT which was used in 2014 Lok Sabha elections; this time also, VVPATs would be used in some selected Assembly Constituencies. The Commission has directed that adequate awareness about the VVPATs shall be created by the district election machinery to acquaint the electors about the features and usefulness of the VVPATs.The Commission has laid special focus on making the election process accessible for all sections of the electorate, especially the Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), aged and infirm electors. Towards this objective, comprehensive guidelines have been issued for making special arrangements like all polling premises will be provided with sturdy ramps (temporary or permanent) for barrier free access and proper link roads to polling stations. For the first time in the state, all PwD electors would be mapped polling station wise and identified, so that need-based facilitation can be provided to them at each booth.Special arrangements for access to polling stations for the electors with orthopaedic impairment will be made by way of arranging wheel chairs/ makeshift carrying facilities.Braille ballots will be given to all the Presiding Officers for use by the visually-challenged electors. Efforts will be made to issue Braille Photo Voter Slips to all persons with visual impairment. A voter awareness guide in braille is also being used.
The Commission has also directed that, as far as practicable, Auxiliary Polling Stations shall be set up in Leper/TB Sanatoriums, Old-age homes and homes for visually impaired for the ease and facilitation of electors at these institutions. Taking the Law and Order Scenario in the state as one of the top priorities, the Commission reiterated on creating conducive environment for peaceful, free and fair elections. State and district level officials have been directed to assess vulnerable locations, vulnerability causing persons and vulnerable electors and prepare a comprehensive security management plan from the grass root level upwards.The Commission has directed that a detailed micro-planning for comprehensive Security Management must be done at the Police Station level related to all past election-related offences, present status of disposal, reasons for FR/Discharge/delay in filing charge sheets, list of all identified trouble-mongers/anti-social elements/bad characters/goondas, proclaimed offenders and bail jumpers etc., their brief profile and areas of influence/activities, preventive actions taken so far etc. All such persons should be kept under close watch and preventive actions will be taken by administration to prevent them from vitiating the election process in way whatsoever.The Commission has directed that Webcasting and CCTV arrangement shall be maximized and to the extent possible, all critical polling stations and those in vulnerable areas must be covered under these arrangements. Further, the Commission has directed that comprehensive CCTV coverage/videography shall be done at Check Posts, critical locations, Inter-border security posts etc. for effective monitoring.The Commission has directed that all licensed arms in the state shall be verified and except those exempted by the District-level Committee, all others shall be deposited before the elections as per the procedure laid out in the guidelines.DEOs and SP’s have also been asked to comprehensively and meticulously assess the vulnerabilities in their areas arising out of issues like communal, from the election management perspective. All such sensitivities must be mapped at the police-station level and detailed action plan for confidence building etc must be prepared and activated immediately.
The Commission has also instructed that strict vigil must be maintained to check the cross-border smuggling of liquor and other illicit items from neighbouring states UP for the inducement of voters during the ensuing polls. For this purpose, a detailed plan of action must be prepared for systematic and robust border checking and regular enforcement action must be taken to deter such unscrupulous activities.The Commission has directed that a comprehensive 360 degree multi-modal SVEEP programme shall be drawn up by the CEO at the State and District level to address all the critical-gaps in the electoral rolls, electoral participation and ethical and informed voting in the State. The SVEEP campaign should be organised and executed in a professional manner having a central theme, concerted focus and practical approach, with the right-mix of mass communication strategies. The focus of the SVEEP campaign at this juncture is the engagement and participation of electors in the Summary Revision process to help and collaborate in the preparations of error-free and updated electoral rolls, which are the foundation of a good election.Towards this end, Gurdas Maan the famous artist of the State and Abhinav Bindra the only individual Olympic Gold Medallist from India have been identified as the State Icons for the Systematic Voter Education for Electoral Participation(SVEEP). The Commission has emphasised the need to identify District level Icons also, which must be gainfully utilized in spreading the key electoral messages across the state. About 666 Campus Ambassadors were appointed in all districts of Punjab to focus on the enrolment of young electors in 18-19 aged categories. Voter awareness and Facilitation centres has been set-up in all the districts.
On the Manpower Training, the Commission has directed DEOs to prepare complete database of Central and State Government employees for assessment of deployable strength of election personnel in different categories. Special emphasis has to be laid on the quality of the training methodology, cascade training, hands-on experience etc. For the first time, the Commission has introduced a mandatory Certification Course for ROs to ensure that the ROs do not commit any errors in the election process.Talking about the IT Initiatives, Dr. Zaidi said that the Commission has been successfully utilizing Information Technology based applications during elections, not only for the improved facilitation of the various stakeholders like electors, election managers, political parties and candidates, but also to ensure efficient and effective monitoring of various elections processes and redressal of Public grievances. Yesterday the Commission had launched three IT applications namely Samadhan, an online grievance registration and redress system, Svidha, a single window system for the political parties and the candidates seeking different permissions during the electioneering phase and Sugam a Vehicle Management System.
The Commission has directed that the Mobile Apps and IT applications Poll-Day Monitoring, personnel deployment, GPS-tracking of Flying Squads should be implemented in Punjab during the upcoming elections for optimum efficiency in election management.The ECI appreciated the CEO and DEOs for having developed good mobile apps for use by stakeholders. We hope that ensuing election will be highly IT enabled election.On the Expenditure Monitoring, the Commission reviewed the strategy with enforcement agencies to curb misuse of money. Commission shall take all steps to curb the menace of bribing electors through distribution of cash, liquor, gifts, feasts etc. and a robust action plan shall be prepared and activated well in time. Comprehensive Expenditure Monitoring machinery will be activated and preventive measures will be taken with the synchronized efforts of Banks, Income Tax authorities (Investigation wing), Narcotics (Central and State), Customs, Excise & Taxation authorities and Police Officials. Check posts will be set up across the state. The vehicles used by flying squads will be fitted with GPS to track their movement and prompt action.