Shahid K Abbas in New Delhi
The Chief Election Commissioner of India, J M Lyngdoh, on Friday rejected the Gujarat government's demand for an early election.
The CEC said, "Only after the completion of the revision of electoral rolls and bringing them as up-to-date as possible and creation of conditions conducive to free and fair election in the state, the Commission will consider framing a suitable schedule for the state assembly election in November-December 2002."
Lyngdoh set October 15 as the deadline for the Gujarat government to revise and finalise the electoral rolls.
"After a careful examination and analysis of the situation in Gujarat, the full Commission has unanimously come to the considered view that it is presently not in a position to conduct a free and fair election in the state," he said.
"The electoral rolls in the state have become substantially defective in view of the large-scale displacement of electors in the wake of the communal riots and their failure to return to their places of ordinary residence where they have been registered as electors," he said.
Lyngdoh and his deputies T S Krishnamurthy and B B Tandon had toured the riot-ravaged Ahmedabad and Baroda for three days last week.
On article 174(1) of the Constitution, which talks about a maximum of six months gap between two sittings of an assembly, the Commission said the provision cannot be read in isolation but along with other provisions, particularly article 324 which provides for superintendence, direction and control for the conduct of elections by the Commission.
Hinting that imposition of President's rule was the only alternative possible in the present circumstances, the Commission said, "The non-observance of the provisions of article 174(1) in the aforesaid eventuality would mean that the government of the state cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution within the meaning of article 356(1) of the Constitution and the President would then step in."
Taking a view that 'the law and order situation in the state was still far from normal', Lyngdoh said, "The wounds of the communal divide following the riots have not yet healed. The slow progress in relief and rehabilitation work on the one hand and the non-arrest and non-punishment of the guilty and the fear of a communal backlash on the other have hampered the process of restoration of normalcy."
Expressing grave apprehensions that in the present situation many electors would be physically prevented from going to the polling stations, the three-member Commission in its 40-page order said, "The law and situation cannot be said to have become normal as fear in the minds of large sections of the electorate, particularly of the minority community, is still a palpable reality and the riot-victims would be extremely wary of going to the polling stations to cast their votes fearing risk to their life and property."
The commission in its order cited the reasons for its decision not to hold early election. "Every vote is valuable, every voter should be allowed to participate and the election should be conducted in the most conducive conditions so that the 'little voter', whatever be his denomination or background, is free to vote."
"All other interests have to be subservient to the democratic values," the Commission noted in its report.
Expressing the hope that the time between now and the announcement of the election would be best used to 'create such conditions so as to preserve the multiethnic, multireligious and multilingual nature of the polity in the larger interest of democracy and humanity and not used for promoting political acrimony'.
The Commission also directed that a 'special revision' of rolls be undertaken in all the 20 districts, which have been identified by the state government as riot-affected areas.
For this special revision, the existing electoral rolls, which have been published on May 15, 2002, would be published as draft electoral rolls on August 28, 2002, for inviting claims and objections.
And, for the purpose of inviting claims and objections, a period of three weeks, up to September 18, 2002, shall be given. Simultaneously, a house-to-house survey by official enumerators shall be undertaken in all major cities and towns of the 20 districts.
A similar exercise of house-to-house verification shall also be undertaken from August 28, 2002 to September 18, 2002, in all the villages of districts affected by riots.
The Chief Electoral Officer in consultation with the District Election Officers of the concerned districts shall draw the list of the cities, towns and villages in which house-to-house verification is to be taken up.
This exercise is to be completed by August 21, 2002 and would give the district authorities a week's time for appointment of enumerators, supervisors and their training and to make other essential arrangements.
The Commission also directed that the photo identity cards should be issued from October 1, 2002, as by then the house-to-house verification of electors would be over.
Gujarat Elections 2002: The complete coverage
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