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Assam Assembly polls to be over before 4 May, people excluded in NRC list can vote, says Election Commission

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora urged state election authorities and citizens to ensure ‘fair, peaceful and Covid safe polls’

The Assam Assembly polls will be held keeping in mind the Rongali Bihu festival and the process will be finished before the CBSE Board exams scheduled to begin on 4 May, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said on Wednesday.

The Commission is sensitive towards festivals held in the various states “and we have already taken into consideration this before coming here for the review meetings”, the CEC told reporters in Guwahati.

Arora also announced that those excluded from Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be eligible to vote in this year’s elections since their names are already there on the voters’ list, according to The Hindustan Times.

“The home ministry notification of 29 August, 2019, clearly states that non-inclusion of a person’s name in NRC does not by itself amount to him/her being declared a foreigner,” Arora said.

“By implication, such persons remain on the voter list and shall be eligible to vote until a decision is taken by the concerned tribunal.”

The political parties during interaction with the full bench of the poll panel had made a plea to keep in view the Bihu festival while deciding the poll schedule to encourage more voter turnout and also to ensure that the monsoon, which usually arrives early in the state, is avoided.

Rongali Bihu, also known as Bohag Bihu, is celebrated by the people of Assam to mark the Assamese New Year. It is usually observed in the second week of April with the onset of spring.

“The Bihu festival dates will be taken into cognisance and factored in while drawing up the schedule of election dates accordingly,” the CEC added.

The commission had meetings with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) officials to decide on the poll schedule framework and “we have decided that the election process will be finished before the board exams begin on 4 May,” he said.

The CBSE board exams are scheduled to start from 4 May and end by 10 June.

The term of the 126-member Assam house is ending on 31 May, 2021.

The political parties had also impressed upon the commission to hold the elections with strict COVID-19 protocols and this will be adhered to strictly with the number of auxiliary polling booths increased in the state, Arora said.

The maximum number of electors at a polling station has been reduced from 1,500 to 1000, he said.

Accordingly for Assam, the number of polling stations would go up by about 5,000 and likely to be more than 33,000 for the forthcoming elections, the CEC added.

The CEC said the Bihar Assembly polls were held amidst tight COVID-19 protocols and the officers “literally burnt the midnight oil to ensure its success which was a big leap of faith for us and we plan to replicate it in other states as well”.

The political parties, keeping in view the COVID-19 norms for ensuring social distancing, had urged that the number of polling booths is increased and a list of such auxiliary polling booths be made available, in time, so that the parties can organise their booth committees and logistics in time, he said.

The parties had also stressed on the need for adequate security even at the remote polling stations and deployment of commensurate security personnel, he said.

Some representatives drew the attention of the commission to deputing observers from outside the state and there is “an unwritten rule that observers for every election are sent from outside the state after due scrutiny. Among them 99.1 percent uphold the sanctity of the Constitution while the 0.1 percent of the black sheep are ruthlessly dealt with,” he said.

If required, special observers will also be deployed in sensitive/critical constituencies/districts to monitor and ensure that elections are conducted in a totally free and fair manner, he said.

Among other issues, some representatives of the political parties wanted that the expenditure limits be hiked, Electors Photo Identity Cards (EPIC) be distributed well in time and the timelines for publishing the criminal antecedents of candidates in media be made more realistic, the CEC said.

Concerns regarding misuse of social media for spreading communal speeches, misuse of government machinery, misuse of money power, and COVID-19 protocol violations were also expressed by some representatives, he added.

All the political parties assured the commission of their full cooperation in ensuring free, fair and peaceful elections, and “we expect them to play a positive role in maintaining harmony and to ensure that the COVID-19 protocols are maintained”, the CEC added.

The commission has zero-tolerance on misuse of money power or government machinery and in this regard, a specific meeting was held with the enforcement agencies to crack the whip wherever required.

The increase in the number of polling stations, in turn, would have other logistics and manpower implications and the commission has directed that assured minimum facilities (AMF) including drinking water, toilets, waiting area, and ramps be provided at all polling stations along with voter assistance booth, Arora said.

As an extension of AMFs, all polling stations will ensure social distancing, sanitising, temperature check, gloves and polling personnel will also be provided along with COVID-19 kits.

The special summary revision of photo electoral rolls 2021 exercise has been completed on 18 January with the final publication of the electoral roll.

House-to-house visits were conducted for the facilitation of Form 12D to senior citizens and persons with disability (PwD) electors so that they can exercise their option for the postal ballot if they desire, he said.

This will be made available from the date of announcement till the 5th day following notification of elections, Arora said.

The auxiliary polling stations would be located at ground level and in the vicinity of the main polling station, to the extent feasible, and in consultation with political parties.

The CEC, accompanied by Election Commissioners Sushil Chandra and Rajiv Kumar was on a three-day visit to Assam from Monday to conduct an in-depth review of preparedness for the forthcoming Assembly polls in the state.

With inputs from PTI

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