The five year term of the 15th Lok Sabha is due to expire on 31st May, 2014. Credible elections, conducted at regular prescribed intervals, are the very soul of any democratic system. Article 324 of the Constitution of India bestows the relevant powers, duties and functions upon the Election Commission of India while Section 14 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 provides for conduct of the elections to constitute a new Lok Sabha before the expiry of its current term. Taking into account these Constitutional and legal provisions, the Election Commission of India has made comprehensive preparations for conduct of elections to the 16th Lok Sabha in a free, fair and peaceful manner.
Elections to world’s largest democracy pose immense challenges with respect to logistics and man and material management and Commission’s endeavour in this direction has been to consult all stakeholders, invite inputs from all relevant departments/ organizations and evolve a coordinated framework for smooth delivery of yet another round of General Elections.
In the course of assessing various dimensions involved in holding elections to the 543 Parliamentary Constituencies (PCs) and, in particular, the parameters to be considered for their scheduling and phasing, the Election Commission of India held a meeting with the representatives of all recognized National and State Political Parties on 4th February, 2014. At this meeting, the Commission also shared its concerns with the representatives of the Political Parties on certain aspects relating to maintenance of the standards of election campaign and political discourse which the Commission has assiduously been trying to ensure, with cooperation from all stakeholders, over the past few decades.
The issues that emerged during the meeting with Political Parties provided the backdrop for the planning process to be taken forward. In this direction, the Commission organized a Conference of the Chief Electoral Officers (CEOs) of all the 35 States and Union Territories (UTs) on 10th February, 2014 at New Delhi. All aspects of election preparedness were reviewed for each State/ UT and relevant instructions were issued to the CEOs for ensuring efficient conduct of the elections.
The Commission also held a meeting with the Chief Secretaries, Directors General of Police, Home Secretaries, Chief Electoral Officers and Police Nodal Officers of all States and UTs on 20th February, 2014, to assess the overall law and order situation, ascertain State/ UT specific areas of concern, deliberate on the quantum of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) required in each State/ UT and to review the overall preparedness of the election machinery. The cooperation of all authorities was sought for conducting free, fair and peaceful elections across the country, under the overall supervision and control of the Commission.
The conduct of General Elections in the entire country requires considerable deployment of Central and State Police Forces to ensure peaceful, free, fair election with fearless participation of electors, especially in the vulnerable areas/ pockets. Mobilization, deployment and disengagement of these forces with minimum criss cross movement and optimal utilization, involved complex planning and detailed analysis, carried out over several rounds of consultations with the senior officers of the Ministry of Home Affairs/ CAPFs/ Police Nodal Officers of the States/ UTs. The Commission too, held discussions with the Union Home Secretary to highlight the areas of coordination for effective deployment of these forces.
The Commission had detailed discussions on the nation-wide Election Communication Plan with the Secretary, Department of Telecommunication (DoT) and senior officials of BSNL and MTNL to ensure effective multi-mode communication system so that the Commission could track events on each of the Poll days’ uninterruptedly. The communication shadow areas were accorded a priority during the meeting and DoT was asked to ensure coverage of all such areas, after identifying the best available option.
Meeting was also taken by the Commission with Chairman, Railway Board and other senior officials of the Ministry of Railways in regard to the specific requirements of special trains for smooth and timely movement of CAPF Companies and other police forces across States/ UTs, including their intra-State shifting during the election period.
Keeping in view the interests of the students and also the fact that Polling Stations are mostly located in school buildings and teachers are engaged as polling personnel, the Commission has consciously factored-in the examination schedules of various State Boards, including the Central Board of Secondary Education, in the process of finalizing the poll dates. In addition to this, other relevant factors like various holidays and festivals falling in the months of March, April and May, harvest season in certain parts of the country and the inputs obtained from the Indian Meteorological Department on the pre-monsoon rainfall, onset and spread of monsoon and acute hot weather conditions in certain parts of the country have also been taken into consideration.Thus, while deciding on the number of poll days for each State/ UT and the composition of the PCs that go to polls on a particular poll day, the Commission has, to the extent possible, taken all relevant aspects and information, related thereto, into view.
Delimitation of Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies
The General Election to the House of People, 2014 to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha shall be held on the basis of the extent of PCs as per “Delimitation of Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Order, 2008”. The General Election to the House of People, 2009 was also held on the basis of the said PCs. Therefore, there is no change in the extent and status of PCs after 2009 General Election. Further, the total number of PCs allotted to various States and UTs, including SC/ ST seats continues to be the same. Similarly, General Elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim shall be held on the basis of the extent of Assembly Constituencies (ACs) as per 2008 Delimitation Order, as mentioned above. The total number of ACs allotted to these States including SC/ ST seats shall continue to be the same.
Electoral Rolls have been revised with reference to 1-1-2014 as the qualifying date and have been finally published in all States and Union Territories. The process of continuous updation of electoral rolls will continue till the last date of filing nominations.
The total electorate in the country as per final published E-rolls in reference to 01.01.2014 is approximately 814.5 million compared to 713 million in 2009. This marks an increase of more than 100 million electors. There has been a remarkable increase in the enrollment of electors in the age group of 18 to 19 years. Over 23 million electors are in this age group. Electors in the age group of 18 to 19 years now constitute 2.88% of total electors, against 0.75% in 2009. Commission allowed enrollment of transgender persons with gender written as "Others" in the electoral rolls since 2012. The number of electors enrolled as "Others" gender is 28,314. Parliament amended the Representation of the People Act, 1950, allowing enrollment of Indian citizens living overseas as electors. 11,844 overseas electors have been enrolled in the current electoral rolls. There are 13,28,621 service electors in the electoral rolls.
Photo Electoral Rolls and Elector Photo Identity Cards (EPIC)
The country had gone to polls with Photo Electoral Rolls for the first time in 2009. In that year the State of Assam, Jammu & Kashmir and Nagaland did not have Photo Electoral Rolls (PERs), and Elector Photo Identity Cards (EPICs) were not distributed to electors in Assam and Nagaland. Now all States and UTs have PERs Rolls. Photographs of 98.64% electors are already printed in the electoral rolls. 95.64% electors have been given EPIC. The percentage of electors with EPIC and photographs in electoral rolls is likely to increase further before the elections. 17 States and UTs, viz. Andhra Pradesh, Puducherry, Goa, Daman & Diu, NCT of Delhi, Lakshadweep, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Kerala have photographs of 100% electors in the electoral rolls. 16 States and UTs have 100% EPIC coverage. These are - Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, NCT of Delhi, Laskhadweep, Puducherry, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Kerala. Remaining electors are advised to submit their photographs to obtain their EPIC from the concerned Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) urgently. CEOs have been directed to maximize photo and EPIC coverage in the electoral rolls before the elections.
Measures for Facilitating franchise of epic holders – Special Camps to be Organised
Commission has received complaints that some persons having EPIC have in the past been denied the right to vote because their name was not found in the electoral rolls. It is clarified here that only those persons are allowed to vote at a Polling Station who are enrolled in the electoral roll for that Polling Station. EPIC is only an identity document and does not confer the right of vote on any person, whose name is not in the electoral roll. It is also clarified that the law does not allow inclusion of names in the electoral roll after 3.00 PM on the last date of filing nominations, till the electoral process is complete. All persons are, therefore, advised that they must check that their names are in electoral rolls. Facility of checking is provided on the website of Chief Electoral Officers. Facility to check the names in electoral rolls through SMS has also been provided. The number on which SMS is to be sent is different for each State and shall be publicized by Chief Electoral Officers. In addition, the Commission has directed that a special camp shall be organized at all Polling Stations on 9th March, 2014 (Sunday) for this purpose. In this camp, the electoral roll for that Polling Station shall be pasted on the wall of the Polling Station and shall also be read out in public, so that people can check that their name is in the electoral roll. If the name of any person eligible to be enrolled is left out for some reason or has been wrongly deleted, such a person should immediately fill application for inclusion of name in Form 6 and hand it over to the Booth Level Officer (BLO), who will be present in the camp at the Polling Station. The BLO shall then deliver the form to the ERO, who will include the name if the applicant is found eligible to be enrolled as an elector.
Intensive monitoring of electoral rolls by the commission
Commission has put in place a mechanism of daily monitoring of electoral rolls during the period of continuous updation. Instructions have been given that there shall be no suo motu deletion of names after final publication of electoral rolls. EROs have been directed that they must consult the District Election Officer (DEO) on all deletions after final publication of e-rolls; further, no deletion or modification shall be done, after 10 days of announcement of elections, without prior approval of the Commission.
Measures to prevent impersonation of absentee voters
BLOs shall do a door to door survey and prepare a list of voters found absent from the place of their ordinary residence. Similarly, names of shifted and dead voters shall also be added to this list by BLOs. This list of Absent, Shifted or Dead (ASD) voters shall be given to the Presiding Officers on the poll day. Commission has issued instructions that voting will be allowed only after proper identification of voters. Identification shall be done on the basis of EPIC or Photo Voter Slips issued by the Commission or other alternative identity documents permitted by the Commission. Presiding Officers are required to double check the identity of voters whose names are on the ASD list.
Presently there are approximately 9,30,000 Polling Stations in the country, as compared to 8,30,866 Polling Stations set up during Lok Sabha election, 2009. This marks an increase of nearly 11.9 percent Polling Stations. This increase is largely due to rationalization of Polling Stations, which the Commission undertook in the recent years.
Basic Minimum Facilities (BMF) at polling stations
The Commission has recently issued instructions to the Chief Electoral Officers of all States/ UTs to ensure that every Polling Station is equipped with Basic Minimum Facilities (BMF) like drinking water, shed, toilet, ramp for the physically challenged voters and a standard voting compartment etc.
Electronic Voting Machines (EVM)
The Commission has decided to use Electronic Voting Machines in all the polling stations of the country as was done in Lok Sabha Elections in 2004 and 2009. There are 14,68,430 Control Units (CUs) and 14,95,430 Ballot Units (BUs) available in the country. Apart from this, manufacturers have been asked to manufacture and supply 2,51,650 Control Units and 3,82,876 Ballot Units, which are expected to be received by 31st March, 2014. With this, the country will have 17,20,080 Control Units and 18,78,306 Ballot Units. First Level Checking (FLC) of the available EVMs has been started in all the States/ UTs and has been completed in many places.
Commission has put in place several administrative safeguards for EVMs. These include, sealing of CU and BU with Pink Paper seals specially manufactured by Security Printing Press, Nasik; two stage randomization; mock poll by casting 1000 votes in at least 5% EVMs both during FLC and preparation of EVMs during candidate set operation, taking a sequential print of the 1000 votes cast during the mock poll at the preparation stage and showing it to representatives of political parties and candidates; mock poll by casting at least 50 votes on poll day, multiple thread seals on the EVM and green paper seal on the result section of the CU after mock poll. All of this is done in the presence of political party representatives and candidates, and their signatures are obtained on the seals and in the registers kept for this purpose. Polled EVMs are transported under armed escort and stored in strong rooms with a double lock system and guarded 24x7 by armed police. There is CCTV coverage of strong rooms and political parties and candidates are also allowed to keep a watch on them, round the clock.
Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)
The Commission has also decided to use Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trial (VVPAT) system in the General Election to the House of the People, 2014, in some of the Constituencies, subject to availability of number of units. Presently, Commission has 600 units of VVPAT and another 20,000 units have been ordered and are likely to be received by 31st March, 2014.
NONE OF THE ABOVE (NOTA) OPTION IN EVMs
In its judgement dated 27th September, 2013 in Writ Petition (C) No. 161 of 2004, the Supreme Court has directed that there should be a “None of the Above” (NOTA) option on the ballot papers and EVMs and that the same should be implemented ‘either in a phased manner or at a time with the assistance of Government of India’. For implementing the NOTA option, the Commission has issued detailed instructions to the Chief Electoral Officers of all States/ UTs.