Monday, May 23, 2022

RTI Documents Question Election Commission’s Decision To Delay Gujarat Polls, Show It Didn’t Delay Polls In Inundated J&K

RTI Documents Question Election Commission’s Decision To Delay Gujarat Polls, Show It Didn’t Delay Polls In Inundated J&K
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A latest report by The Indian Express has questioned the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) decision to delay Gujarat assembly elections as documents accessed by the newspaper through the Right to Information Act (RTI) show that EC did not delay polls in Jammu Kashmir under similar conditions in 2014.

The report is likely to create a political storm as Congress had already alleged that EC had deferred Gujarat polls under pressure from the Central government.

Congress had also alleged that it was to pave way for the BJP government to announce soaps in Gujarat ahead of the assembly polls to alleviate anti-incumbency feeling in the state.

On October 12, when EC announced dates for Himachal Pradesh assembly election, it was also supposed to announce polls in Gujarat. The Commission had then cited a request from Gujarat government to delay elections as it was busy in the relief and rehabilitation work in the wake of floods in July in the state. The EC said that the State administration had informed the Commission that it had to relocate 35 affected villages. Delaying Gujarat elections, Chief Election Commissioner A.K. Joti had then reasoned at the press conference that imposition of the model code with immediate effect would hinder all government works and thus affect the relief work.

However, according to The Indian Express, RTI documents question the CEC’s claim of model code affecting relief work. The documents show that EC had relaxed model code for Jammu and Kashmir after the state was hit by floods barely three months ahead of Assembly elections in November 2014.

In fact, on November 5, 2014, the EC wrote to the Cabinet Secretary, J&K Chief Secretary and the state’s Chief Electoral Officer, informing them that it had relaxed model code provisions for providing relief and rehabilitation to flood-affected victims.

In this letter, the EC instructed that “all relief and rehabilitation measures declared in the flood-affected areas as per the approved schemes of the central/ state governments may be carried out without prior approval of the Commission.”

The newspaper further says the EC did not provide a copy of the letter from Gujarat government requesting delay in elections although it acknowledged receipt of two letters from the state’s chief secretary on September 27 and October 2. The EC also said that it had not issued any reply to the Gujarat Chief Secretary in response to the two letters.

A.J. Shah, Gujarat’s Relief Commissioner, had told NDTV no letter went from his department to the Election Commission mentioning flood-relief work. “No letter went from my department to the Election Commission mentioning flood relief work,” he was quoted saying. Any such request to the EC would have to be routed through Shah, who is the nodal officer.

The delayed poll date announcement did help the ruling BJP in Gujarat as a slew of financial sops were announced and big-ticket projects were launched across the state without fear of model code. On October 22 --- ten days after EC decided not to enforce model code with immediate effect and 10 days before it finally enforced it -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the much celebrated RoRo ferry service calling it a landmark moment in Gujarat’s development journey.