During the first visit of the full Election Commission of India, headed by the Chief Election Commission Mr. Nasim Zaidi, after the imposition of Model Code of Conduct for the upcoming Punjab Vidhan Sabha Elections in the state Commission has met political parties to take their feedback, understand issues, concerns and their suggestions for holding free, fair and peaceful Assembly Election in the state of Punjab. The Commission also reviewed preparedness with DCs, CoPs, SSPs, DIGs/IGs, CAPF coordinator, DGP, Home Secretary, Chief Secretary and other senior officers of the State. Separately, commission met senior official of Income Tax, Narcotics, Excise and State representative of Enforcement agencies.
Issues raised and suggestions made by the Political Parties:
Political parties expressed their satisfaction on
1. Preparation of Electoral Roll
2. Deployment of CAPF for coming elections.
Political Parties raised following issues:
1. Robust security deployment at polling stations and nearby.
2. Proper deployment of forces for area domination and confidence building measures.
3. Regulation of the utterances of some leaders violating MCC or spreading hatred and the threats of stone pelting leading to disturbance of peace.
4. Keeping a close eye and take action against the officials of Election Machinery or police who are found favouring some candidates or are having partisan attitude.
5. Stopping malpractice through use of money, drug/liquor and muscle power to influence the elections. It was requested that strong and forceful preventive action must be taken.
6. Need for strong and forceful preventing action.
Model Code of Conduct:
Some Parties demanded
I. Ban on blue ration cards issued under National Food Security Mission with the pictures of the Chief Minister which is a violation the MCC and disturbs level playing field.
II. Issue of selective security covers to political leaders, being used to intimidate the voters.
III. The issue of politically motivated appointment of party functionaries to various statutory boards, which are misusing official machinery for political mileage.
IV. Big convoys of vehicles being used by some Ministers in some districts.
V. Selective harassment of workers of some political parties by police at some places.
VI. In many districts, halqa in charges are still influencing local level officials and should be prevented
The Commission assured them that the Commission will ensure the smooth conduct of entire poll process in a free, fair, peaceful and participatory manner.
The Commission has directed the State Election Machinery to address the concern of the political parties and instil confidence in the electorate to exercise their franchise without fear, coercion, intimidation or inducement and provide level playing field to one and all.
LAW AND ORDER: SECURITY MANAGEMENT
The Commission attaches highest importance to creating conducive environment for peaceful, free and fair elections. Hence, Commission directed state and district level officials to enforce confidence building measures through introduction of CAPF by means of flag march/area domination& various other measures in vulnerable habitations.
• General and police observers have been deployed in the state to monitor all activities and advise the local administration. The phone numbers of these observers will be made available to public. They will directly report to Commission.
• The Commission directed that action against all identified trouble-mongers/anti-social elements/bad characters/goondas, proclaimed offenders and bail jumpers etc. Must be taken immediately in order to prevent them from vitiating the election process in way whatsoever. Comprehensive Inspection of Jails will be conducted by Jail department to stop the activities of criminals inside and outside.
• DMs and SSPs have been directed that the cases of gunners/ Security personnel accompanying various political functionaries without having been duly authorised by threat assessment committee must not be allowed to vitiate process forthwith so that poll process is not vitiated.
• Webcasting at 4000 Polling Stations have been planned and videography 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. More than 63% (242387)arms have already been deposited.
• The Commission has directed that comprehensive security arrangements must be made well in advance. The CAPF which have started arriving should be used carefully for Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) jointly by the DEO and SSP to reassure the voters and instil faith and confidence in them regarding the fool-proof security and electoral arrangements. Daily route plan of CAPF must be done in advance and review meeting be conducted by SSP on day to day basis. The CAPF vehicles must have proper signage and public address system.
• International borders and also Inter-state borders will be appropriately subjected to surveillance and will be sealed on the day of poll.
• The Commission has also instructed that strict vigil must be maintained to check the cross-border smuggling of, drugs, liquor and other illicit items from neighbouring states for the inducement of voters. For this purpose, a detailed plan of action must be prepared for systematic and robust border checking and regular enforcement action has been taken to deter such unscrupulous activities.
• Halka in charge : Institution of Halka in charge shall not be allowed to unduly influence officials and disturb the level playing field. If need be, reshuffle of lower level officials will be done within the districts and outside.
• Commission directed that security personnel given to political persons will not be allowed to be misused to intimidate the voters.
• In view of complaints of political parties on politically motivated appointments of party functionaries to various statutory boards, which may be misused for political mileage, Commission directed that statutory function of these boards shall be discharged by officials & not by any political functionary or kept in abeyance during MCC.
• Convoy: MCC guideline with respect to convoys must be followed strictly Ration card with photos of Political trouble mongers will not be allowed.
• Commission has directed the officials to remain extremely neutral and work without any influence and enforce MCC.
• Ration cards bearing photos of political personality will not be permitted. Political vigilance committee will not work. Officials will oversee distribution of food.
CONTROL OF ABUSE OF MONEY AND EXPENDITURE MONITORING
Commission reviewed its comprehensive strategy with enforcement agencies to curb misuse of money/drugs/liquor & gifts distribution.
• Comprehensive Expenditure Monitoring machinery and strategy has been fully activated and preventive measures are being taken with the co-ordinated efforts of Banks, Income Tax authorities (Investigation wing), Narcotics (Central and State), Customs, Excise & Taxation authorities and Police Officials.
Seizure as on 11-01-2017 since Enforcement of MCC.
o Cash Rs. 3.39 Crore.
o Liquor 14273 Ltr (14.27 Lakh)
o No. of Person arrested : 08
o Opium 37 Kg (37 Lakh)
o Poppy husk 3777 Kg (1.51 crore)
o Heroin 25 Kg (62.5 crore)
o Sniffer dogs have led to 2 recoveries of poppy husk in Bathinda and Barnala district.
Total value of all the Seizures (67.91 crore)
• Expenditure observers have been deployed in the state to monitor all activities related to expenditure monitoring. The phone numbers of these observers will be made available to public. They will directly report to Commission.
• 451 FST and 504 SSTs have been operationalised in Punjab.
• The vehicles used by flying squads will be fitted with GPS to track their movement and prompt action.
• DMs are being asked to coordinate with banks to adhere to SoP for movement of their cash and also for ATM use.
• DMs are being directed to upload affidavits filed by candidates quickly so that income tax carries out real-time monitoring.
• Commission has directed to implement and activate SoP for last 72 hours for conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections.
• 72 surprise nakas will be set up on international borders.
• CAPF will be deployed in last 72 hours with Nakas etc
• NCB has set up 22 teams along with CAPF
• Drug Controller teams have conducted 172 searces post MCC
• Excise department has conducted 263 raids and lodged 104 FIRs post MCC
• A 24 * 7 control room has been setup and a 24*7 toll free number, 1800180-9699 for the whole state has been started.
• To monitor the movement of cash through aerial routes, Air Intelligence Units (AIU) have been made operational at Mohali, Bhatinda, Ludhiana and Amritsar.
• Huge clandestine currency exchange along with deposits in benami bank accounts is being monitored.
• It is anticipated that besides cash flow, there would be huge movement of money through banking channels and fool-proof arrangements are being made to monitor these suspicious banking transactions.
• The Directorate of Income Tax Investigation in coordination with adjoining states, has already carried out 9 surveys, 4 search and seizure operations, cash interception in 26 cases and inquiries in 200 cases resulting in seizure of 10 crores and detection of black money to the tune of 200 crores.
• An inter-state and inter-agency coordinated strategy has been evolved to effectively curb drug menace to ensure free and fair elections. District and Sub-Division level committees have been established coordinated action. 74 inter-state Nakas have been set up out of which 58 are equipped with CCTV cameras. 22 sniffer dogs have also been deployed in different parts of the State.
• The Commission requests the civil society groups to effectively utilize the IT-based applications for registering complaints and giving information about any violation of illegal inducement of electors by unscrupulous elements through distribution of cash, gifts, liquor etc.
• The Commission has issued instruction to monitor the advertisements, publicity of candidates and paid news cases by channels owned by political parties and expenses on these channels be included in the account of the candidates.
• Press Council of India has nominated a senior journalist to facilitate better functioning of MCMC.
• Systematic and structured training should be organised for MCMC members across the state.
• Commission has issued a comprehensive press note on media related issues, which also contains PCI and NBA guidelines related to Paid news and media is expected to follow these guidelines.
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY INITIATIVES:
• The Commission has been successfully utilizing Information Technology based applications during elections, not only for 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.
Some of the important IT initiatives shall be as follows :
Samadhan & Suvidhahas already been implemented and stabilized in Punjab. Over 1000 complaints have been resolved by Suvidha. The call center 1950 which is working 24*7 has also received 1165 complaints and suggestions.
Sugam: Vehicle Management System-
• It is an efficient and elegant web-based application for managing the Vehicles requisitioned during election period.
• The details of vehicles, driver contacts, periodical fuel allotment to the vehicle etc. are captured in the software.
Mobile Apps and other IT applications:-
• Commission is happy that CEO and DEOs have developed good IT applications like RO NET /BLO NET & Mb. Apps like ECI 360 for use by stakeholders. We hope that ensuing election will be highly IT enabled election.
EVM and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT):
• EVM machines will be used in all Assembly Constituencies. In continuation of the successful use of VVPATs since 2014 Lok Sabha elections, this time also, nearly 9500 VVPATs will be used in selected 35 Assembly Constituencies in the states. On the direction of the Commission awareness about the use of VVPATs is being carried out by district election machinery to acquaint the electors and political parties about the features and usefulness of the VVPATs.
• Commission directed that DEOs and SP/CPs shall be personally responsible for safety and security of EVM & VVPAT. There shall be no laxity at any level and any lapse shall be sternly dealt with.
• 5 Constituencies in the State will be covered by ETPBS (Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System) . These are 62 Atmanagar, 60 Ludhiana East, 65 Ludhiana North, 15 Amritsar North, 34 Jallandhar West.
• The CEO Punjab has informed that as on date 1, 97, 49,964 voters are available on E Roll, including 380 Third Gender (TG) electors. (Male: 1,04,40,310 and Female: 93,09,274) NRI Voters 281
• In the recent campaign for Special Summary Revision as per eligibility on 01.01.2017, 773214 new voters have been enrolled, out of this, 272055 are from the first time voters in 18-19 age cohort.
• At the same time 237856 names of shifted and dead voters from the electoral rolls have been deleted during this revision.
• Percentage of photo coverage in the electoral roll is nearly 100% and EPIC coverage is 100%.
• Final Electoral Rolls has been displayed on the CEO’s Website and copies of the final Rolls have been given to National and State Political Parties. All new additions and deletions has been made available to all political parties at field level.
• Printing of new EPICs has been closely monitored by senior officials for ensuring that these reach the appropriate persons only and well within time after final rolls are published. All new EPICS will reach the voters by 20th January.
Measures taken for Voter Facilitation and making Election inclusive and voter friendly.
Voter has always been the focal point for Election Commission of India and Commission has augmented various voter facilitation measures to facilitate the voters in elections. The motto of Election Commission of India is “No voter to be left behind”.
• Commission has directed that all the necessary arrangements for facilitation and convenience of voters at the polling stations shall be made to ensure a smooth and comfortable voting experience.
• All Polling Stations will be provided with ramps and other necessary facilitations for persons with disabilities.
• The Commission has directed to set up all women managed polling stations to motivate women’s participation in the electoral process.
• Ensuring that barricading and other measures at polling stations does not create any obstruction to access.
• Specially designed standard signage will be used in all polling stations.
• Numbering the Braille ballot paper for easy readability by the presiding officer.
• Revised Photo Voter slips, voter guide, voter facilitation posters will be provided. Height of voting compartment has been increased.
• Presently there are a total of 22600 Polling Stations at 14354 Polling locations.
• Voter assistance booth at all polling Stations.
• Status of Assured Minimum Facilities of these Polling Stations is as follows:
• Present Status of AMFs:
Drinking water 100%
Waiting Room/Shade 99.51%
• The Commission has laid special emphasis on making the election process accessibly for all sections of the electorate, especially the Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), aged and infirm electors etc. Towards this objective, comprehensive and consolidated 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 have been mapped and identified and they would be tagged with each polling station, 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 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 be set up in Leper/TB Sanatoriums, Old-age homes and Blind-homes for the ease and facilitation of electors at these institutions.
• Toll Free Call center has been made functional.
• Awareness observers have been deployed in the state to monitor SVEEP activities including comprehensive 360 degree multi-modal SVEEP programme to address all the critical-gaps in the electoral rolls, electoral participation and ethical and informed voting in the State.
• The State election machinery has done a participative and people-friendly SVEEP campaign to transform into a peoples’ movement to create a festive buzz about the forthcoming elections. The campaign is being promoted in all the media including outdoor and indoor, cinema hall, video vans and social media.
• People will be encouraged to take a pledge against taking money for voting. Political parties and candidates across the State will also be encouraged to take pledge that they will not distribute money for including voters.
Regular Media Interaction and Information, Facilitation and Dissemination through Media:
• The Commission considers the media as its formidable ally and a force-multiplier in ensuring efficient election management and effective compliance of all laws, instructions and guidelines of the Commission.
• Commission has directed CEOs and DEOs to use social media for the benefits of voters and polling.
• Commission has issued a comprehensive press note on media related issues. Media is expected to follow these regulations during election process.
• The Commission has directed that regular press briefings must be held by the CEO and the DEOs and all crucial information on election related matters will be periodically informed to all stakeholders through the media
• DMs and heads of police in districts are key in ensuring free and fair elections in the state and Commission has directed the state and district machinery to ensure free, fair, peaceful, transparent and participatory elections and enhance confidence of the electorate to exercise their franchise without any fear, influence, coercion or inducement.
• Commission has also directed the officials to take effective preventive measures against criminal and anti-social elements and create an atmosphere where criminals and intimidators are not able to deter the voters from exercising their franchise.
• The Commission is committed to ensure that a level playing field is provided to all political parties and candidates. Entire electoral machinery is expected to be totally fair and neutral and the Commission has a policy of zero tolerance in respect of any erring official.
• The Commission has also directed the electoral machinery to ensure that no voter is denied the opportunity to participate in the voting process and all the DEOs and SPs will have the responsibility in this regard.
• It is the responsibility of the officials to provide proper infrastructure, congenial atmosphere and enhancement of voter facilitation measures for forthcoming General Election.
In a nutshell
• Commission is committed to maintain purity of elections and to deliver free, fair and transparent elections.
• Commission directed the Election Machinery to be fearless, unbiased, neutral and independent from any influence whatsoever. Conduct and discharge of duties by the election officials would be under constant watch of the Commission. Anyone found left wanting on these standards, Commission will not hesitate to take stern action.
• Information and Communication Technology is being 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.
• Commission has strong belief that Punjab will be able to set a new bench mark by providing a totally free, fair, peaceful, credible, transparent, inclusive and participative election and these elections will be celebrated as the festival of democracy.
• Finally, the Commission solicits proactive support of all political parties, media organisations, civil societies, youth and community organisations and all voters of Punjab to join hands with the Commission and wholeheartedly participate in poll process and enable the creation of a conducive environment for the smooth and efficient conduct of elections in a free, fair, participative and credible manner.
• We hope that “No voter to be left behind” in the forthcoming Legislative Assembly Elections- 2017 in Punjab.