The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Assam ‘D’ voters in vanishing act

New Delhi, July 15: The Election Commission has been stumped by the disappearance of a large number of “D” voters ' those whose citizenship is doubtful ' from the latest draft electoral rolls of Assam, compiled after an intensive revision exercise that began last year.

The revised estimate shows a significant slump in the number of voters of doubtful origin from the tally arrived at seven years ago.

According to data compiled by the commission, the number of “D” voters in the state stands at 1,81,619 at present. These voters cannot vote in the Assembly polls next year unless their citizenship is verified before the final rolls are prepared. The new tally is a combination of the “D” voters whose cases are still pending with the IM(DT) Act tribunals and a fresh list of 57,827 people.

The general impression was that the commission had detected 3.7 lakh “D” voters during the intensive revision of electoral rolls in 1997. But only 1,99,631 such cases were referred to the tribunals for verification. After investigation, 3,686 voters were found to be foreigners and their names were struck off the list.

An official source said a huge number of those who were blacklisted in 1997 could not be traced during the house-to-house enumeration exercise that was conducted recently. “We believe they migrated to other states to try their luck and get themselves registered as voters,” he said.

The commission is understood to have issued strict instructions to officials in Assam not to include anybody from the “D” group in the draft rolls without confirming their whereabouts.

Several MPs from the state expressed astonishment over the new findings by the poll panel, but declined to comment till the final publication of rolls in September.

During the latest survey, Jorhat and Sivasagar were found to have the least number of voters of doubtful origin, while the constituencies in the North Bank districts and areas bordering Bangladesh recorded the highest figures. For instance, from the North Bank, 72 Barchalla, 70 Majbat and Dhekiajuli recorded 7,983, 5,856 and 5,787 “D”cases. Dhubri and 25 Golakganj, which are believed to have a significant migrant population, were found to have 3,912 and 4,756 voters of doubtful origin.

The earlier procedure required the commission to refer all “D” cases to the tribunals under the IM(DT) Act, which were supposed to ascertain the credentials of the blacklisted voters and submit reports. Now that the Supreme Court has struck down the IM(DT) Act, these cases will have to be forwarded to new tribunals, to be set up under the Foreigners Act of 1946.

The old process was a slow one, which is why the poll panel had written to the Union home ministry two years ago, making a case for more tribunals in the state.

Several political parties recently urged the commission to settle the “D” cases at the earliest.

The overall increase in the percentage of voters in the state has been 14.2 per cent. Since the final rolls have not been published, the final estimate could be slightly different. Tomorrow is the last date for submission of complaints in the districts.

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