New Delhi, Sept. 3: The Election Commission today announced a schedule for elections in Bihar spread over 81 days starting immediately.
The commission said it was announcing the schedule despite serious misgivings about the administration in the state.
Beginning with the announcement of elections today ' and the model code of conduct coming into effect instantly ' the schedule sets a November 23 date by which counting is to be completed. The first phase of polling will be held on October 18 and the fourth and last on November 19. (see chart)
The schedule has been drawn up to make time for deployment of central paramilitary forces, inspecting road conditions and after checking out dates during the festival season. A number of major festivals are in October-November ' Dussehra, Diwali, Id, Chhat and Guru Nanak’s birthday.
“Elections have been spread over four phases and even five phases in Bihar (in 1995) in the past also,” chief election commissioner B.B. Tandon said.
“We have considered all aspects to draw up the schedule and are planning an optimum deployment of central paramilitary forces because the security environment is no better than that during the last Assembly election (January); there has been a step-up in Naxal activity and more than 70,000 non-bailable arrest warrants are still pending execution.”
Asked about the case in the Supreme Court that has challenged the dissolution of the Assembly, Tandon said the Election Commission was carrying out its mandate to conduct elections in Bihar within six months since the last Assembly was dissolved.
In the event the Supreme Court, which has already told the commission to continue with its process, stays the elections, the commission will abide by the order.
Tandon detailed instructions issued by the commission to the state administration and the Centre to prepare for the elections. He said the administration had pointed out that there is a shortage of IPS officers of the rank of superintendent of police. Twelve IPS officers of the Bihar cadre are currently posted with the Centre and the Election Commission had suggested to the Prime Minister that they be repatriated to Bihar for at least three months.
The commission was particularly worried after the Bihar government kept adding to the list of non-bailable warrants that have not been executed for at least six months. He said on July 7 that the Bihar government had said there were 27,123 NBWs pending for more than six months.
On August 25, when the full commission visited Patna, it was told that there were 70,189 NBWs pending for that period.
“We were surprised,” said Tandon.
“We were further surprised by the communication from the DG police received yesterday that there are now 76,471 NBWs pending execution. The DG police explained that the large number of NBWs hitherto concealed had now been found in the districts of Siwan, Aurangabad, Banka and Buxar. This is a sad reflection on the state of affairs in the police administration. It is as if there is a hidden treasure from which more and more NBWs can be found. I hope we have seen the last find,” said Tandon.
The commission said it expected all officials “to discharge their duties in an impartial manner without any fear”. Action would be taken against anyone found wanting, Tandon warned.
The government has been asked to transfer officers against whom the commission has in the past recommended disciplinary action or those charged with any lapse during previous elections from posts entailing election work.