EC to seek clarifications from MHA, take legal opinion
JAMMU, Apr 30: Full Election Commission which met today under the chairmanship of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora in New Delhi to take a call on holding Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir decided to seek further clarifications on certain aspects of the issue from Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and opinion of legal expert in the context of ongoing President’s rule in the State.
The Election Commission after two-hour long meeting on conduct of Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which was also attended by Election Commissioners—Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra, discussed all issues pertaining to holding of elections including observations of the State administration given on April 26 and certain guidelines that the Assembly polls have to be held within six months of dissolution of the House.
An official statement issued by the Commission late this evening after the meeting, said: “The issue of Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir was discussed in the Election Commission meeting today. It was decided to seek further clarifications on certain aspects of the issue from Ministry of Home Affairs. It was also decided to seek the opinion of an eminent legal expert in the context of ongoing President’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir’’.
Sources told the Excelsior that the Commission would like to take opinion of the MHA on conduct of Assembly elections in June or deferring them to September-October as proposed by the J&K administration, before taking final decision.
Further, sources said, the legal opinion would be obtained by the Commission as six months of dissolution of the Assembly would expire on May 21 as the House was dissolved by Governor Satya Pal Malik on November 21, 2018.
“It was impossible for the Commission to constitute new Assembly before May 21,’’ sources pointed out and said delaying Assembly elections beyond June will lead to further extension of President’s rule by six months on June 19. Jammu and Kashmir was brought under the Governor’s rule on June 19, 2018 following withdrawal of support to Mehbooba Mufti-led Government by the BJP. After six months of Governor’s rule, the State was brought under President’s rule on December 19, 2018.
The Election Commission meeting, according to sources, remained inconclusive and it couldn’t take call on whether to go for Assembly elections in June or defer them. It would now meet MHA officials and legal experts before deciding the issue.
Sources said there was a strong possibility that Assembly elections in the State might miss the June deadline and might be considered for September-October or even November-December on the lines of 2008 and 2014.
The Commission is understood to have taken into account the view point given by the administration citing Eid celebrations, deployment of security forces for annual pilgrimage to Shri Amarnath Ji shrine followed by 45-day long yatra and tourist season in the State during summer especially from May to September; as the reasons for deferring Assembly elections in June and holding them in September-October after completion of yatra and Monsoon.
They pointed out that between Eid, which falls on June 5 or 6 and deployment of security forces for Shri Amarnath Ji yatra in South Kashmir Himalayas from June 15, there was gap of only 10 days. Even if deployment period is extended by five days, it was not possible to conduct the elections in 15 days.
According to sources, while Lok Sabha elections for six seats of the State are being held in five phases, the Assembly elections for 87 seats would require minimum of seven phases and a gap of at least five days in the phases to shuffle para-military forces from one district to another.
“The Election Commission wanted to conduct Assembly elections in June. Even three Special Observers appointed by the Commission had proposed three options with one of them suggesting holding the polls in June,’’ sources said but added that there were definite difficulties in conducting elections in Jammu and no one can take risk on Shri Amarnath Ji pilgrimage as it was always on terror radar. While 45-day long yatra will start on July 1, every year induction of para-military forces begins a fortnight in advance. This year, the induction will start on June 15, leaving negligible time for the elections.
Moreover, the State Government was of the view that tourism has suffered badly in the Kashmir Valley due to disturbances during past three-four years. This year, however, there were chances of good tourist season in view of some kind of normalcy as compared to previous years. However, the Assembly elections in June had the potential of disturbing the tourist season.
According to sources, the Assembly elections could be pushed to September-October when Monsoon and Shri Amarnath Ji pilgrimage will be over or even to November-December if the Commission decided to wait for return of Nomads from upper reaches to plains, which will boost the polling percentage.
A State Government delegation comprising Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, Home Secretary Shaleen Kabra and Director General of Police, Dilbag Singh besides Chief Electoral Officer, Shailendra Kumar had met the Commission on April 26 to present their view point on conduct of Assembly elections in the State.
Initially, there was a proposal for holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the State in April-May but the Commission had cited security related issues for deferring the Assembly polls while holding general elections for six Lok Sabha seats in the State.
Three Special Observers including Noor Mohammad, retired IAS officer, Vinod Zutshi, retired Deputy Election Commissioner and AS Gill, retired IPS officer, had submitted their report to the Commission giving options to the poll body on conduct of Assembly elections in the State.