Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh will be held in a single phase on November 9 with the hill state set to witness an intense battle between the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.
Making the announcement in New Delhi on Thursday, the Election Commission said the results will be declared on December 18.
The dates for Assembly elections in Gujarat were not announced but Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti said the polls will be held before December 18.
"This is being done to ensure that the voting pattern of one state does not affect the other state...polling in Gujarat will be held before December 18 (when HP results are announced)," Joti told a press conference.
The tenures of Himachal and Gujarat assemblies end on January 7, 2018 and January 22 respectively.
"The Model Code of Conduct comes into force immediately," Joti said while announcing the poll schedule for Himachal Pradesh.
The model code of conduct will be applicable for Himachal Pradesh as well as for the Union government in matters related to the state.
For the first time ever, the Election Commission will set up 136 all-woman managed polling booths in Himachal Pradesh, with each constituency having two of them.
In the 68-member assembly, the ruling Congress has 35 members while the strength of opposition BJP is 28. There are four independents while one seat is vacant.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh will fight for a seventh term. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi last week declared Virbhadra Singh as the party’s next chief ministerial face, saying he will be chief minister for the seventh time.
The BJP will be fighting out on the back of a sweeping Lok Sabha victory in 2014 in the state too and landslide wins in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand assembly polls in March.
Responding to queries on why elections in Gujarat were not announced simultaneously, Joti said the imposition of Model Code with immediate effect would stop all government work and there was no need to prolong it beyond the required period.
The CEC said elections to the two states--HP and Gujarat-- were announced separately in the past too including in 1993, 1994 and 2002.
He said besides availability of central forces and festive season, the Gujarat government had told the Commission that several relief and rehabilitation works were on in the state following the July floods.
The poll process in Himachal Pradesh will start with the issue of the gazette notification on October 16 when candidates can start filing their nominations.
Joti, who was flanked by Election Commissioners O P Rawat and Sunil Arora, said the last date for filing of nominations is October 23.
After scrutiny on October 24, the last date for withdrawal of nominations is October 26, he said.
Himachal Pradesh will be the second state after Goa with 100 percent VVPAT (paper trail of votes) coverage. The paper trail machines will be deployed along with EVMs in all the 7,521 polling stations, including 42 auxiliary polling stations at remote places.
Joti said VVPAT machines from one polling booth in each of the 68 assembly constituencies will be tallied with EVM results to check the vote count.
The Commission has also increased the size of the VVPAT paper trail screen, where voters can see for whom they have voted.
Joti said photo electoral rolls will be used for Himachal polls and photo identity cards have been issued to all voters.
He said voter slips will be distributed to each and every voter in the state seven days before the polls along with a voter guide brouchure in the local language of Hindi.
The CEC said voter assistance booth will also be set up and the size of the standardised voting compartment will also be increased from 24 inches to 30 inches, keeping in mind the introduction of paper trail machines.
Each candidate contesting the poll will have to maintain a separate account of poll expenses, which have been capped at a maximum of Rs 28 lakh for Himachal Pradesh. However, the candidate will have to submit the election expenses to the returning officer within a period of 30 days after the declaration of results.
Centre putting pressure on EC: Congress
The EC, however, did not give the exact dates for the Gujarat polls, drawing accusations from the Congress against the Centre.
Since the terms of the Gujarat and the Himachal Pradesh assemblies are ending in January, it was expected that like in 2012, the poll schedule for the two states would be announced together on Thursday.
Responding to queries on why elections in Gujarat were not announced simultaneously, Joti said there is 'no justification' to have a prolonged period of imposition of model code of conduct as it could hamper development work.
The CEC said elections to the two states -- HP and Gujarat -- were announced separately in the past too including in 1993, 1994 and 2002.
Joti said people had represented the EC that Himachal polls should not be held beyond November 15 keeping in mind the onset of harsh winter in the upper reaches of the hill state.
Similarly, besides issues like availability of central forces and festive season, the Gujarat government had told the Commission that several relief and rehabilitation works were on in the state following the July floods and it needed time before the model code comes into being.
But the Congress accused the Centre of 'putting pressure' on the Election Commission to defer declaration of Gujarat assembly polls and asked the poll panel to answer why it delayed announcing it along with Himachal Pradesh.
"It is now clear that the Modi Government and the BJP are putting pressure on the EC to defer announcement of Gujarat election alongwith Himachal, to suit its political ends," Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala alleged in a video message put out on his Twitter account.
The Congress leader said that the 'onus lies on the EC to ensure level playing field by announcing Gujarat election dates and imposing Code of Conduct immediately'.
"We demand that the elections be held in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh in November and the model code come into effect immediately. This is the demand of the people of both the states as well as the constitutional obligation," he said.
Responding to questions 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 announcement of polls and the date of the notification of elections.
He said this would effectively mean that the model code will be in place for 46 days. He said in the past, when elections to Gujarat and HP were announced together, the model code remained in for 86 days.
"There is no justification to have prolonged periods of model code of conduct," Joti said.
The model code come into force the day polls are announced and remains till the poll process is over. It comes to nearly 46 days.