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Assam poll dates unchanged
- Full Election Commission team arrives in state on two-day visit to check poll preparedness

Guwahati, March 12: The Election Commission today rejected the BJP’s plea for rescheduling Lok Sabha polls in Assam in view of Ashokastami and Rongali Bihu.

The party’s state unit had urged the commission to postpone voting on April 7 and 12 as the two dates coincide with the two festivals. The third and last phase is on April 24.

Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath today expressed the Election Commission’s inability to agree to the request. “Ashokastami is not even a restricted holiday in the state while Rongali Bihu celebrations will start from April 13. We don’t have the luxury to agree to its request,” he told reporters here this evening.

Sampath, along with two election commissioners, H.S. Brahma and Nasim Zaidi, was on a two-day visit to the state to review preparedness for the polls. He said this was the first visit by a full-strength Election Commission to any state to review poll preparedness after the announcement of election dates.

The team held separate meetings with representatives of political parties and deputy commissioners, senior police officers and income tax and railway officials at the State Administrative Staff College here today.

Sampath said a few political parties told them that the issue of doubtful (D) voters was pending for long because of different reasons and sought settlement of the issue within a specific timeframe.

“Disposal of cases of D-voters by the competent authority, which is the judiciary, is taking its own time. We will recommend to the state government to take steps for speedy disposal of these cases,” he said.

On political parties’ request for a system to redress complaints fast, he said they had reviewed the issue with the chief electoral officer of Assam and had asked him to suitably increase the helpline numbers (currently 1,950) where any complaint related to violation of model code of conduct can be lodged.

The team categorically asked the deputy commissioners and the chief secretary to stop implementing all populist schemes with individual benefits except distribution of relief under natural calamities or disasters and supply of agricultural inputs such as seeds and manure, which are season-dependent.

Sampath said they had also received complaints about non-implementation of the commission’s transfer policy and had asked the chief secretary to do the needful in a time-bound manner and submit a compliance report to the poll panel.

He said the Election Commission had zero tolerance towards anybody deviating from the path of neutrality during elections.

He warned of stringent action against distribution of cash, liquor or any other item like mosquito nets by political parties to lure voters and also asked poll officials to intensify vigil against such practices.

The poll panel directed income tax authorities to monitor every largescale movement of cash and to form air surveillance units to keep close watch on movement of cash through flights.

Sampath said the state machinery had been instructed to create a single window for giving permission to hold election meetings and rallies within 36 hours from the receipt of the application.

He said the procedure to cut down on licensed arms and seize illegal weapons was on. He said the poll panel would provide basic facilities, such as an overhead shed for voters queuing up, drinking water and a ramp for the physically challenged. The state will have 24,275 polling stations.

On the announcement that pro-talks Ulfa leader Hira Sarania will contest the election, Sampath said there is a set of criteria under which nominations can be disqualified. “If a member of a banned outfit files nomination, then we will examine it and take appropriate action,” he said.