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Plea to alter poll date in Meghalaya

- NGO joins postponement clamour; infighting continues in Tripura PCC

Shillong, Jan. 15: A church body in Meghalaya has petitioned the Election Commission to defer the polling date to ensure that churchgoers remain unaffected.

According to the Election Commission, voting for the ninth state Assembly elections in the hill state will take place on February 23 while counting will be held on February 28.

As February 23 is a Saturday, the contention of the Garo Baptist Convention is that polling officials will have difficulty in attending service the subsequent day.

In a letter to Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath yesterday, Garo Baptist Convention general secretary Rev. R.G. Momin said “Conducting of polling on a Saturday means that election officials will have to travel back on Sunday. Even if they are to return on the same night, being a hill state, travel is not comfortable, and majority of the roads is in a dilapidated condition. This will cause physical strain and make it difficult for them to attend service on Sunday, which is a day of worship for Christians not only in Meghalaya, but throughout the world.”

Momin said the Garo Baptist Convention has a population of around 3 lakh spread across the five districts of Garo hills in the 24 Assembly segments.

However, there are also members who are residing in other parts of the state.

Besides the Garo Baptist Convention, the church leader said even the Catholic Church has its presence in Garo hills.

Rev. Momin said in the interest of voters, election officials and programmes and activities of the Garo Baptist Convention and other churches, the commission should defer the polling date by either advancing it to February 21 or postpone it to February 26 or 27.

He said the principles of Indian secularism — respect for religious plurality — should be upheld and called for adherence to Article 25 of the Constitution.

In another petition, the Indigenous Biodiversity and Social Welfare Organisation, an NGO, has requested the commission to defer the polls on similar grounds as observed by the church body.

“As the term of the current House expires on March 10, there is room to make adjustments and even if the counting date is close to the polling date, it will not in any way obstruct the process. Counting can be done, if not already implemented, at the community and rural development block headquarters,” the NGO’s senior adviser, Rev. P.B.M. Basaiawmoit, said.