Under attack from the Opposition, Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti defended the decision of announcing Himachal Pradesh’s poll schedule before that of Gujarat, saying that multiple factors including the weather, flood relief work and festivities were considered before taking a call on election dates.
He, however, refused to react to the Opposition’s remarks, saying that at times the parties spoke well of the panel, and at times they were critical.
“But we do not react. They are free to air to their views,” he said.
Asked when the poll schedule for Gujarat would be announced, Joti replied the commission would call reporters “soon”, without elaborating any further.
He said several political parties and the state administration had urged the EC to hold Himachal elections before November 15 as harsh winter and snowfall in at least three districts create problems for the voting process.
Joti said to man polling stations, the Commission required the services of state government officials who were busy in flood relief and rehabilitation work.
“I don’t say that they should complete it (first). But the work should be maximised as they would then get busy with polls… This time, due to the use of (VVPAT) paper-trail machines, the training would be more intense. Since the same officials are involved in relief work, they cannot be used for poll duty,” he said.
Joti said Diwali was a major festival in Gujarat and that was one of the reasons for the poll watchdog not announcing the voting schedule earlier.
“Model code (of conduct), checking by flying squads could hamper people’s movement…but now that is over,” he said.
The CEC said while the Gujarat and Himachal polls were announced together in 2012, their schedules were different. He also pointed out that the two states had no similarities in geography or weather patterns.
Responding to the argument that by “delaying” the announcement of the Gujarat polls, the EC was giving time to parties and the government to sidestep the provisions of the model code, Joti said in 2001 the law ministry and the EC had reached an understanding following which it was decided that there would not be a gap of more than 21 days between the announcement of polls and the date of the notification of the elections.
He said this would effectively mean that the model code would be in place for 46 days.
Joti added that in the past, when elections to Gujarat and Himachal were announced together, the model code remained in force for 86 days.