In the summer of 2017, Gujarat witnessed one of the worst floods which claimed more than 200 lives and wrecked havoced in the state. Following the floods, upon the request by the Gujarat government, the Chief Election Commissioner AK Joti said that the elections in the state were delayed due to the flood relief. AK Joti at a press conference on October 12, in which he also announced the poll schedule for Himachal Pradesh said, “We have received a representation from them (Gujarat government) that there have been unprecedented floods in July and relief work could only start in September… They have suggested that the Model Code of Conduct should be imposed for a reasonable time so that they do not face problems in carrying out relief and rehabilitation work.”
But in an RTI filed by the Indian Express state that there was no such case was presented by the Jammu and Kashmir government in 2014 when the state witnessed one of the worst floods of the decade. The floods hit the state three months ahead of the Assembly elections in November 2014. The Model Code didn’t come into play.
More than 300 people were killed in the Jammu and Kashmir floods which affected thousands of others in September 2014. In 2014, the poll panel was headed by V S Sampath, H S Brahma and Nasim Zaidi. The panel decided not to delay the elections which were held from November 25 to December 20. Interestingly, the state of Jammu and Kashmir recorded 65 per cent voter turnout which happens to be the highest in 25 years.
Although, the delay in the election dates helped the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state. The BJP government announced a number of big-ticket projects across the state and helped steer the election campaigns across the state with complete power.
As per the records unearthed by the EC:
* No official request came from the J&K chief secretary seeking to delay polls due to flood relief work. However, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference notified the EC to defer the of polls keeping in mind the devastation caused by floods.
* The EC wrote a letter to the Cabinet Secretary, J&K Chief Secretary and the state’s Chief Electoral Officer on November 5, 2014. The EC wrote that it had relaxed model code provisions for providing relief and rehabilitation to flood-affected victims.
* The Chief Minister’s Office stated that reimbursement of rent amounting to Rs 27.5 crore in favour of 18,000 shelterless families affected by floods.
* Reference from the Ministry of Home Affairs on holding a meeting of the Committee of Secretaries (CoS), under the chairmanship of cabinet secretary, to review issues relating to rehabilitation and restoration of public assets in J&K.
* Reference from J&K’s finance department to permit tax exemption (under J&K Entry Tax Act and Toll Act) on goods relating to rehabilitation of flood-hit victims.
* Letter from the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar seeking permission to employ four contractual workers to keep the library open 24X7, to make up for study hours lost due to floods.
All the four requests were approved by the EC (See Chart)
The EC was criticised for not simultaneously announcing polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, although the terms of the two-state assemblies expire within two weeks of each other. Former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi had said that this raised “serious questions”, while the opposition, Congress Party, alleged that the BJP had got its way with EC to delay the announcement.
The Gujarat election dates were announced two weeks after Himachal Pradesh. The people of Gujarat will vote in two phases — December 9 and December 14, results of which will be declared on December 18.