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EC’s ready, now it’s all up to govt

New Delhi, Jan. 20: T.S. Krishnamurthy, the new chief election commissioner, has said that he is ready to hold elections “at the earliest”.

In his first interview after receiving a copy of the communiqué of his appointment, Krishnamurthy said though the commission has six months to finish conducting the polls, he would “rather go by the spirit” of a Supreme Court judgment that favours elections as early as possible.

Krishnamurthy’s comment came amid speculation that the commission might need more time to prepare for polls if the government dissolves the Lok Sabha as expected after February 5, the day the short Parliament session it has called ends.

“For that matter, it would be possible for the EC to conduct any election at the earliest,” Krishnamurthy said but did not specify any dates as the first “formality” — dissolving the House — has to be completed.

Referring to the Supreme Court verdict, Krishnamurthy said: “The judgment is clear. The EC has a time of six months to finish conducting the elections as the new House has to assemble within that period. But the spirit of it is conducting any election, for that matter, after the dissolution of any House, as early as possible.”

The apex court’s verdict came after Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi dissolved the Assembly for early polls but ran into opposition from J.M. Lyngdoh, whom Krishnamurthy would succeed on February 8.

The statutory period for the preparations — filing of nominations, withdrawals, screening of nominations and campaigning — is 21 days.

“However, it (conducting elections as quickly as possible) will all depend on the government’s readiness to provide us with paramilitary forces, employees, movement of the forces and other infrastructure and logistics,” Krishnamurthy said.

The 63-year-old former revenue service officer said “four to five factors” have to be taken into account. “Holidays, including school/college holidays, weather conditions, readiness of the machinery, availability of personnel and logistics.... Once these conditions are satisfied, elections could be conducted.”

According to Krishnamurthy, a meeting of all state chief electoral officers is scheduled for February 4, to be followed by a meeting of all chief secretaries for which “no date yet has been finalised”. The two meetings would give the final picture.

Talking about voter lists, the new chief election commissioner said it was a “continuous process”. “In places where there are bogus inclusion or exclusion of voters, we have called for details,” he said.

He gave the example of Andhra Pradesh where about 80,000 genuine voters of a particular place were allegedly excluded. The countrywide voter-population ratio, Krishnamurthy said, was 66.67 per cent (66.67 voters per 100 people). “In Andhra, in certain places, it was reported to be about 75 per cent. From such places we have called for details,” he added.

“Voter list is not just the job of the EC alone. In fact, all political parties and even individuals should be very vigilant to point out any mistake or malpractice. However, the political parties are worried about the list only during elections.”

In cases where no voter identity card is available, the rule of recognising one of the 20 identifications like ration card, passport, driving licence, government identity cards would apply. “The Election Commission’s all other rules to conduct the elections as during the recent five state elections (in Delhi, Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan) will continue to be in force,” Krishnamurthy said.

Krishnamurthy said electronic voting machines were “tamper proof” as they were “tested and satisfied” by experts. He cited the example of Mizoram where “protesters” smashed an EVM.

“It was brought to Delhi with its broken parts and in front of witnesses it was repaired and found that the data was absolutely safe. Only when you change the chip itself, an EVM can be manipulated which is not possible at all,” he said.

Unlike his predecessors, T.. Seshan and Lyngdoh, Krishnamurthy believes the chief election commissioner should not give opinion on political parties and politicians.

“The only job is (for the CEC and the EC) to ensure free and fair elections. I will give you a popular analogy. In cricket, it is said when the bowler bowls, the line is the umpire’s. When he crosses it, the umpire shouts no ball,” Krishnamurthy said, likening the chief election commissioner’s job to that of an umpire.

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