The Election Commission today indicated that Gujarat may go to polls in December as the term of the current legislative assembly is coming to end in the third week of January. Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) A K Joti also said that voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) system will be used in over 50,000 booths in Gujarat. VVPAT was first used in Goa polls earlier this year. He said that paper slips will be counted at a single booth in each 182 constituencies to tally the number of slips and the votes cast. For the first time, the poll panel will also introduce all-women polling stations in Gujarat in all assembly segments. A team of EC officials headed by the CEC was on a visit of Gujarat to assess the poll preparedness.
“Elections will have to be held in December as the term of the current Gujarat assembly is coming to end in the third week of January next,” Joti said in response to a query on media reports and some politicians claiming that polls are going to be held in December. He refused to divulge whether the polls will be held in a single phase or otherwise, saying the EC will think over the inputs it had gathered during the Gujarat visit. The team, also comprising election commissioners O P Rawat and Sunil Arora along with 12 other senior officials, had interacted with government and police officials besides the representative of political parties during their two-day visit, which concluded today.
“After Goa, this will be for the first time that we will be conducting entire elections using VVPAT here. This is a challenge for us too,” Joti said in reply to a question regarding a demand raised by some political parties that at least 10 per cent of total VVPAT slips should be counted. He said according to procedure, the candidates who have some grievances can ask for counting of slips of a particular booth and the poll officials will take a decision on it. “In Goa, out of total 40 constituencies, only one candidate had asked for counting of slips of seven booths, out of which returning officer had allowed counting of slips of four booths,” he said. The CEC said the poll panel has decided to set up all- women polling stations across all 182 assembly segments. “I am happy to inform that for the first time the Election Commission has decided to set up at least one all- women polling station in each of 182 assembly constituencies,” he said.
Thanking the State Election Commission for its efforts in this regard, Joti said that polling as well as security officials at such polling stations will be women. Gujarat will have 50,128 polling stations and 28,639 polling locations, he said. “After the recently-held summary revision campaign, as many as 10.46 lakh new voters were added, out of which 3.20 lakh are first-time voters,” the CEC said, adding that around 4.4 lakh voters were deleted from electoral rolls after their names appeared in the list of absentees, shifted or dead (ASD). He said the total number of voters in Gujarat now stands at 4.33 crore. “No new deletion will take place,” he said, adding that the final roll of voters has been placed on the CEO website and has also been given to political parties. A number of measures have been taken to ensure that elections are held in a free and fair manner, he said.
He said central police forces will be deployed as part of the confidence building measures. “Web casting, CCTV, videography will be provided at border check posts and identified polling stations. It will be ensured that all licenced arms are deposited with SHOs and police stations concerned,” he said. The CEC said multiple agencies like Income Tax, Excise and Narcotics Control Bureau will be activated to “curb issues of money, drug, liquor and distribution of gifts”. He said the government has been directed to provide “cashless treatment facility” to polling staff and police personnel on election duty. “This circular will ensure that all poll-related staff are able to get medical treatment in the nearest hospitals including private hospitals,” he said. Joti said IT-related applications and online facilities have been developed to monitor the poll-related activities and to address public grievances. “The intentions and purpose of the ECI is that nobody should have to visit any government office, but they should be able to make application online and shall be addressed in a timeline manner,” he said.