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Nov-Dec polls in five phases

New Delhi/Ranchi, Oct. 23: The Election Commission finally announced elections in Jharkhand, to be held for the first time in five phases, amid the looming shadow of Maoist violence, but ushering in a sense of relief among political parties that can now hope to have an elected government in place by the end of the year.

“The government of India … has intimated that the proclamation imposing President’s rule in Jharkhand issued on January 19, 2009, keeping the Assembly under suspended animation… cannot be extended further and will expire on January 18, 2010,” chief election commissioner Navin R. Chawla said at a media briefing here at Nirvachan Bhavan.

Accordingly, elections would be held to install a popular government before January 18, 2010, he said.

Voting for the 81 Assembly seats would take place on five days beginning November 27 and continuing till December 18 (see chart). Counting will be on December 23. The model code of conduct would come into force immediately and would apply to the state government, the Union government and all political parties, Chawla said.

The 2009 general elections — held over three phases in Jharkhand and neighbouring Andhra and Orissa — had been marred by Naxalite violence. That seemed to have weighed with the commission, though Chawla was reluctant to admit it.

“It has become necessary to hold elections in five phases. It is necessarily because of the Maoist threat. We have to take a lot of things into account, including movement of troops,” he said.

“Our elections never seem to end. There is no respite for the forces. Even they needed a break,” he said.

Chawla was flanked by the two other commissioners, S.Y. Quraishi and V.S. Sampath. To ensure law and order during elections, both central and state troops would be deployed in adequate strength, Chawla said. Central troops will be used for area domination in consultation with observers on the ground, he said. The commission would also use 14,921 micro observers to ensure free and far polls.

In the state capital, the announcement of the elections had infused new energy among political parties. But, officials of the administration sounded nervous.

“Elections in five phases have made the police personnel more vulnerable to rebel attacks. As a good number of Naxalites are keen to contest polls, there might be more bloodshed. The rebels would not only attack police, they would also be fighting among themselves,” said a senior special branch officer.

Politicians welcomed the announcement, but with the usual barbs. “The commission announced the poll programme within a day of the Union cabinet discussing Jharkhand. Doesn’t this indicate that the commission is not functioning as an autonomous body?” said BJP MP and former chief minister Arjun Munda.

“Had the decision to hold fresh elections been taken six months before, the face of our state would have been different. But, we welcome the move to hold elections,” he added.

MP and former chief minister Madhu Koda, under the scanner of the enforcement directorate and state vigilance in disproportionate assets cases, also welcomed the announcement of polls.

Polling would be held on the basis of constituencies framed under the Bihar Reorganisation Act, 2000, as the 2007 delimitation had become redundant, Chawla said.

Of the 81 Assembly seats, nine are set apart for Scheduled Castes and 28 for Scheduled Tribes. The voters’ list as updated on January 1, 2009, would prevail, Chawla said. Jharkhand has some 18,027,476 electors.

All those who have been issued EPICs will be identified through EPIC only. The state has a 77.63 percentage EPIC coverage. Other identification proof may be used by those who haven’t been allotted EPICs. Polling will be through EVMs at 23,949 polling stations.

Every stage of the polling process would be videographed, specially poll campaigns and rallies etc, Chawla said.

nGovernor beats poll code, distributes appointment letters for doctors, Page 15

Only those officials who don’t have cases framed against them and those not involved in vitiating polling process earlier, will be used to ensure the smooth conduct of polls, Chawla said. All officials would be treated as under deputation to the commission and will be under its direct supervision.

Strict action would be taken against those not conducting themselves fairly, he added.

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